Though initially hesitant last week to move forward with placing a $17.5 million bond measure to fund waterline replacements on November's ballot, the West Linn City Council unanimously voted to do just that at its most recent meeting Monday, Aug. 1.
The $17.5 million would go towards replacements of three city waterlines beneath the Abernethy Bridge, West A Street Bridge and Sunset Avenue bridge in conjunction with the Oregon Department of Transportation's I-205 improvement project. Replacement of the Abernethy waterline, which provides all of the city's water and is estimated to have 20 years of life left, is expected to cost around $14 million. Work on the other two pipes will cost an estimated $3.5 million.
When ballot language for the bond measure was presented at the July 25 meeting, the council declined to move forward, hoping for more time to potentially secure funding for the waterline work during the Oregon Legislature's next long session, which will begin in January. However, after learning that the city will be asked to pay nearly $2 million for the waterline between now and mid-2023, when funding from the Legislature could be approved, the council opted to move forward and ask the community for the funds in November.
During the Aug. 1 meeting, the council heard from ODOT officials and the city's legislative advocate.
"We've looked under every rock to deal with this last-minute indication of ODOT that the city was responsible for an early payment in the costs for replacing the waterline," lobbyist Doug Riggs told the council.
Riggs mentioned the city had considered its legal options, as well as state and federal grants, to help finance the project, but was consistently met with timing issues. Though he and city officials communicated with West Linn's legislative delegation during this year's short session, Riggs said there wasn't time to explain the city's request and get it approved.
Riggs also explained that nuances of the federal infrastructure bill passed by Congress earlier this year are still under consideration. Whether the waterline project qualifies for federal infrastructure funds likely wouldn't be determined for another year or two.
Della Mosier, deputy director of ODOT's Urban Mobility Office, said the agency would continue working with staff to find alternate funding for the project that would ease the city's burden.
Councilor Todd Jones pointed out that the waterline project accounted for 25% of the city's entire annual budget.
Mosier and I-205 Improvements Project Manager Allen Hendy explained that complexities of the construction schedule, as well as supply chain issues, require the city to begin making payments for the waterline later this year.
Mayor Jules Walters said she wanted ODOT to understand how tolling, diversion and traffic impacts of the I-205 project would adversely impact West Linn.
"Then to be saddled with the full financial burden of this waterline that still has life in it … is difficult," Walters said.
Jones said it was challenging to make such a big ask of West Linn voters just to "maintain the status quo."
Council President Rory Bialostosky also acknowledged the difficulty of the request, but mentioned the benefits of the waterline — including its ability to withstand a major earthquake, the extended life it will have and increased capacity, so more water can reach the city.
If passed, the bond would prompt an annual property tax increase of 25 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value.
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