City officials could use bonds backed by utility rates

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Charbonneau residents packed the Charbonneau Country Club for a July 30 public meeting outlining the proposed repairs to the district's infrastructure. The Wilsonville City Council will take up the issue tonight at a 7 p.m. meeting at city hall.  The biggest question to come out of a recent meeting in Charbonneau is not one that currently has an answer.

More than 150 residents of Wilsonville’s oldest planned community packed the Charbonneau Country Club on July 30 for a public meeting that detailed a proposed $44.5 million plan to overhaul the district’s stormwater, sewer and water systems, as well as roads. Dubbed the Charbonneau Consolidated Improvement Plan, it outlines 38 separate project areas within Charbonneau that will require work. The intent, city officials say, is to carry out all needed infrastructure repairs at one time in each project area in order to minimize the cost and impact to local residents.

While meeting attendees may have technical questions going forward, the lion’s share of comments offered up to city staff suggest that the biggest worry will remain in the financial realm.

“Can we assume this is the responsibility of the city? And not Charbonneau as a district?” asked Charbonneau resident Walt Lough.

An answer to that question, however, does not yet exist, even though planning level estimates for the overall cost of the project have been put forward. It’s most likely, city officials say, that bonds backed by utility rates would be the means of payment, much like with the city’s new wastewater treatment plant. But the matter has not received any sort of hearing by public officials, who don’t quite know yet what their options even will be.

“Nobody’s hiding any information; the information doesn’t exist yet,” Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp said in response to persistent questioning from the audience. “We don’t know where the money’s coming from yet. We all have a problem that we have to deal with.”

He pointed out that other areas of the city, notably Old Town and Montebello, also would require extensive upgrades over the same 20-year time frame as that proposed for Charbonneau.

“We continually try to set our sewer rates and water rates so it’s equitably distributed throughout the city,” Knapp said. “Charbonneau, right now, is going to be a big bite, it’s not going to be a little bite. So obviously if we can spread the cost among more people the cost would be easier for each person, but obviously rates would go up some.”

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Charbonneaus ailing stormwater system, part of which is shown here, is likely to take up nearly half the cost of a proposed 20-year, $44.5 million overhaul of utilities in the district. The Charbonneau Consolidated Improvement Plan is the result of several years worth of background work done by the city’s public works department. Pipelines were surveyed with video and other tools as plans were developed to prioritize repairs in the oldest and most deteriorated areas of infrastructure.

Construction in Charbonneau began in the early 1970s and continued over the next decade. The streets, stormwater, sewer and water systems all were installed with what today are considered substandard pipes and materials, however, and are now reaching the end of their predicted lifespan. Newer infrastructure installed with later development will reach the same state in coming years, hence the need to stagger the improvement plan over 20 years or even longer.

The city says the stormwater system, with its dependence on corrugated pipes, is in the worst state of any of the main systems and will need to be replaced in its entirety.

“The stormwater system … is in pretty bad shape,” city engineer Zach Weigel told the assembled audience July 30 during his presentation of the plan. “It’s mainly due to the corrugated steel pipe that was used in the ‘70s. The high priority projects are scattered throughout the district, but the entire storm system really needs to be replaced as part of this plan.”

By contrast, the sewer and water systems are in comparatively good condition. Weigel estimated about 10 percent of the sewer system needs replacement, while most water system repairs will deal with improving the flow of water to the district’s fire hydrants.

Only about a third of Charbonneau’s streets, meanwhile, will need repair above and beyond standard maintenance.

City Councilor Susie Stevens, who lives in Charbonneau and was elected in 2012 in part because of support from district voters, said afterward that she was pleased to see such a large turnout at the meeting.

“It’s a very engaged community,” she said. “It’s good for people to be informed and know what’s going on and know they can expect some construction out here."

Stevens agreed the end cost to local residents likely will be the biggest issue surrounding the project moving forward.

“That’s what people are mostly concerned about — 'What is this going to cost?’” she said. “I think Mayor Tim Knapp did a good job of explaining that we don’t have a lot of answers. We just have to work through the process and figure it out.”

Contact Josh Kulla at 503-636-1281 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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