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Failure of the $17.5 million bond measure means the city needs to drastically cut other water projects

COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF WEST LINN FACEBOOK - Breaks in city water mains will likely become more frequent as the city defers much of its planned work to pay for waterline replacements in conjunction with ODOT's I-205 improvement project. The defeat of West Linn's waterline bond measure in the midterm election means the city likely will defer scheduled maintenance and replacement of water mains running beneath local streets. As a result, the city expects water mains to burst more frequently.

The city's $17.5 million bond measure, which would have funded the replacement of water lines along the Abernethy, Sunset Avenue and West A Street bridges on I-205, suffered a convincing defeat, with 61% of voters voting no and 39% approving it as of Clackamas County's latest tally on Nov. 14. The bridge pipes must be replaced as part of the Oregon Department of Transportation's I-205 improvement project, which will see the freeway widened and bridges seismically fortified.

During a Monday, Nov. 14, meeting of the West Linn City Council, City Manager John Williams updated council members on the impacts of the measure's failure.

Williams said the city expects to start receiving bills from ODOT for the Abernethy waterline this year.

To pay these bills, Williams said the city should immediately look to secure a loan backed by water utility fee revenues. If the bond had passed, much of the water utility revenue would have gone to waterline replacements throughout the city in the coming year.

According to Williams and City Engineer Lance Calvert, the city is scaling back its plan to replace nearly a mile of water mains, instead planning to replace just 500 feet of water mains at deemed "critical failure" locations.

"Expect future water main replacement programs to be much smaller in scale now that a majority of existing water utility capital will be earmarked to debt service payment for the I-205 project instead of other needed water capital projects," Calvert wrote in a Nov. 9 email to the council and the city's Utility Advisory Board. "This will result in increased deferred maintenance and increasing numbers of water main breaks, outages and/or boil orders in future years until a sustainable financial solution can be found for the water utility fund."

In the past two years, the city has had 22 water main breaks, according to the public works department. Most of these caused temporary boil water notices or residents in the area to lose water access entirely.

"We have an aging water system like many cities do," Williams said.

Williams said the city is looking to secure a loan to cover the waterline work in conjunction with ODOT. The loan will require council approval.

While pursuing the loan, Williams said the city also will continue to search for federal and state funding to help with the I-205 waterline costs. City officials will appeal to West Linn's federal and state legislative delegates, he said.

The council will discuss waterline funding again at a meeting in December. At this meeting, Williams said staff members hope to have a better picture of how much ODOT intends to bill the city in the near future.

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