As the plans to build a new water filtration plant in rural Multnomah County move forward, Boring residents claim Portland's Water Bureau seems to be "Straight Outta Answers."
To an extent, the bureau seems to agree. Because of the preliminary nature of the project, there aren't a lot of concrete answers to the questions citizens are asking.
Many want to know the exact numbers of trucks that will travel to and from the site during construction, specific chemicals that'll be transported to and used at the plant and they want a detailed timeline for construction.
The plant, which is proposed to be located on Carpenter Lane in rural Multnomah County, is the result of multiple detections of Cryptosporidium, a potentially deadly organism that has been found in the Bull Run watershed.
The Oregon Health Authority is requiring the bureau to treat Bull Run water to remove or kill Cryptosporidium. The Portland City Council agreed to build a plant that will filter the water through a granular media that will also remove other contaminants. The cost is estimated at between $350 million and $500 million.
The Portland Water Bureau bought the property in 1975 for the future location of a yet-to-be-determined facility. The property is actually two tax lots. One was purchased for $65,000 and the other for $250,000.
The Bull Run services more than 950,000 customers in the Portland metropolitan region. Throughout the fall, winter and spring seasons, Sandy receives about half of its water supply from Bull Run. The only Sandy customers who do not receive Bull run water are those located south of Highway 26 and east of Langensand Road and customers north of Highway 26 east of the of the west end of Vista Loop Drive.
Testing the waters
At this point, the bureau is still in the planning phase of the filtration treatment project.
"When (Portland) City Council decided both to build a filtration plant and size, type and location, work on the many, many details of the actual facility had not yet started," said Jaymee Cuti, the bureau's public information officer. "Planning involves figuring out the next level of detail on treatment specific to our water system. This includes completing a pilot study to determine the design that will best treat our water. In addition to monitoring this pilot study and making adjustments along the way, we're setting water quality goals and evaluating the best treatment technologies for our needs. We're also evaluating pipeline sizes and locations. This requires in-depth analysis and reporting, convening national experts, and carefully fine-tuning the details to make sure we get the science and technology right before even beginning to break ground."
The agency worked under a variance until 2017, which allowed it not to treat for Cryptosporidium. However, after multiple detections of the potentially deadly organism in the Bull Run watershed in 2016, that variance was revoked and future attempts to reapply denied. The result was a mandate from the Oregon Health Authority for the bureau to build a new filtration plant, and the bureau began the pre-planning phase of that task in 2018.
Portland's City Council approved the location of a 95-acre lot in rural Multnomah County for a filtration plant on Dec. 12, 2018. The Carpenter Lane location was chosen as the only one of six sites that met all of the bureau's criteria, including: being already owned by the bureau; being zoned to allow a filtration plant; and being at the right elevation to allow gravity to move water into and out of the plant to keep operating costs down.
Though several Boring residents receive water from wells or other systems, with few serviced directly by Portland Water Bureau, they're concerned the presence of the plant in their neighborhood will negatively affect them.
Back to school
A concern brought up at the July 16 meeting was the plant's proximity to the neighboring Oregon Trail Academy. During the meeting, academy graduates Charlee Davis and Benjamin Collins expressed a common issue parents and students see with having the plant less than a mile from the school.
"In the initial meeting, a lot of my concerns were about traffic," Davis said, referring to the June 24 info session at the Multnomah Grange Hall. "We don't have bus systems at OTA, it's all individual cars from parents and students dropping off and picking up. At this point (though), my concern is to a minimum. I feel they've made it really clear they're going to work with traffic routes."
"They've seemed very open and clear and eager to engage with the community," Collins added.
Davis said she also originally worried about the safety of her former schoolmates in the case of a chemical hazard, but that the bureau had eased some of that concern as well. "There shouldn't be immediate danger and (hazards are) something they plan for," she said. "Really the risks are at a minimum."
"The filtration plant will meet rigorous state and federal safety standards for chemical storage and transportation that are designed to protect workers and the public," Cuti told a Pamplin Media Group reporter. "For chemicals stored on site, regulations and safeguards such as required secondary containment will be used. Secondary containment means that a basin around a storage tank would capture any chemicals in the event of a leak.
"Safety of both the public and Portland Water Bureau staff is always a top priority, and our staff holds daily safety briefings to ensure this commitment that underlines all of our work."
Stemming the tide
The bureau plans to host several other public meetings, with one in August (date to be determined).
"On their way out, folks told us the informal nature of the barbecue, combined with the Q&A with the project team, was the right format to get the answers they needed. We designed this event specifically to address community concerns about transparency, including outside facilitation for the Q&A," Cuti said. "We have years to go on this project and this was just one of many, many opportunities people will have to make sure our efforts align with their values.
"Even though we may not always be in agreement, we appreciate and need everyone's input and engagement on how to design a facility that fits in with the rural character of the community."
Residents raised several questions about topics like effects on livestock in the area from construction and plant operation, which the bureau didn't have answers to, partially because of the concern's specificity. The bureau representatives admitted to not being experts on working with livestock, but said they want to work directly with landowners to find solutions.
"We want to work with you to mitigate any concerns you have," Program Director David Peters said after a July 16 BBQ&A info session in Dodge Park. "We are currently — and have been since 2018 — reaching out to neighbors near the future facility site and the broader community to gain an understanding of values important to them — air quality, traffic safety, community character. These types of two-way, ongoing discussions are critical to informing our planning.
"We've been neighbors and a part of the community since 1895. As we deliver water to nearly one million people through this project, and we look forward to continuing to build these relationships over time."
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It costs just a few cents a day.)