UPDATE: City Commissioner says she is 'not on board 100%' during $745 million revenue bond discussion

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Bull Run Reservoir is the primary source of water in much of the Portland region.Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has not yet decided to support the filtration plant proposed to remove contamination from Bull Run water to be constructed near Boring.

Hardesty made the comment during a City Council discussion on selling $745 million in revenue bonds to qualify the project for low-interest federal financing last Wednesday. Although Hardesty said she supports the bond sale, that does not mean she supports the project, which is currently estimated at $820 million.

"My vote today in no way means I'm on board 100%," said Hardesty, who was not on the council when it voted to move forward with the project 2017.

The council is scheduled to vote on the bond after press time on Wednesday, March 16.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Oregon Health Authority is requiring the city to remove potentially deadly Cryptosporidium from Bull Run water. The council has agreed to solve the problem by 2027. it has chosen to pursue a filtration plant as opposed to less expensive options because such a facility can also remove other contaminants from the water, including silt and ash if there is a fire in the Bull Run Watershed. It has agreed to

Water rates will have to be raised to pay for the project, however. During the hearing, Hardesty and Mayor Ted Wheeler both said they have been hearing from Portlanders concerned about the increase, especially now that the economy has stalled because of the COVID-19 crisis. Hardesty also said she is concerned that smaller water districts that currently buy water from Portland will develop their own sources, forcing the city's rates to increase even more.

Four witnesses testified against authorizing the bonds, saying the projects is not needed, will harm the environment, and will unnecessarily increase water rates. They included Lauren Courter, who lives on a blueberry farm next to the site. She is active with Citizens for a Peaceful Rural Living and Bull Run Water Guardians, two organization comprised mostly of residents in the area who oppose the project in the largely rural area.

Courter described the proposed plant as "extensive and unnecessary," and said it was "inappropriate and insensitive" for the council to even consider the request while the economy was suffering because of the COVID-19 crisis. She submitted a letter that said a plant that treats Bull Run water with UV light would meet the EPA and OHA requirement while being smaller and costing much less.

The bonds will also help finance a $20 million Corrosion Control Facility previous approved by the council to reduce lead entering drinking water from homes and buildings plumbed between 1970 and 1985.

According to a financial impact statement accompanying the ordinance, additional costs including contingencies, financing, indirect costs and inflation could push the final costs of the projects to approximately $1.5 billion.

If approved, the federal Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan would lock in low U.S. Treasury interest rates and save the city $350 million in debt payments after the completion of the projects.

"Council approval of the finance plan for the Bull Run Treatment Projects will lock in significant benefits for our ratepayers," said Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who is in charge of the Portland Water Bureau.

The city estimates construction of the Bull Run Treatment Projects will create 7,500 direct construction jobs. Contracts related to the projects ensure contractors are paying prevailing wage rates and maximizing opportunities for disadvantaged, minority-owned, women-owned, emerging small businesses, and Service Disabled Veterans Business Enterprise contractors and subcontractors.

The ordinance moves to a council vote next week. They council will vote on the final design and estimated cost of the project in the future.

You can find the ordinance and impact statement here.

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