Council Sept. 3 Meeting: Addie Greene Reports

By Addie Greene

To Pipe or not to Pipe

“We haven’t looked at the unintended consequences” of piping two miles of the Talent Irrigation District (TID) canal within the city limits, Councilor Stefani Seffinger pointed out at an Ashland City Council meeting September 3 that was to decide this issue.

            “Trees (that now depend on open water from the TID) will dry out and be more susceptible to burning,” Seffinger continued. “This will affect people, who may not be able to keep their homes. We must help property owners to find new means of watering trees.” Also, she said, “Homeowners probably will close that area,” thus cutting off two miles of hiking on a very popular trail system, which should be incorporated into the trails master plan.

            Another unintended consequence, Seffinger said, is that closing off an open water supply will drive more wildlife  into town. “Many animals will be affected—more will come down.”

            “Conservation is imperative,” said Public Works Director Paula Brown. “This decision will affect all of us for years—perhaps a century—to come. Sixty-two million gallons of water a day now are being lost to evaporation.” The $3.5-million cost of the project would be more than paid for by a savings of $4.3-million in saved water, she said.

            “Are there grants available for this project?” asked Councilor Stephen Jensen. For the piping, yes, Brown replied, but not for the option of lining the canal with concrete, because that is considered maintenance.

            “What is the city’s responsibility?” Brown asked. “What are property owners’ responsibilities? We should encourage property owners to use non-potable water” for irrigation. “The primary use of the TID will be drinking water. We can eliminate e coli from coming into the pipe, and e coli needs stagnant water” to survive.

            Ashland Deputy Public Works Director Scott Fleury said the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix (TAP) master plan is an intergovernmental agreement integrating the water use master plans of the three cities, whose representatives meet monthly with a consultant. The Talent and Phoenix systems are piped, “and there is a concern about Ashland’s drawing water during peak times,” Fleury said.

            “Is there a particular trigger (for Ashland) to access TAP?” asked Councilor Tonya Graham. Ashland prioritizes water sources as (1) city (2) TID and (3) TAP, Fleury explained. “It would be a policy decision as to when to use TAP,” he said. “We can pay Medford per 100 gallons of water already treated or $1.15 per thousand gallons for TAP or 40 cents per thousand gallons for TID,” he said.

            More than a dozen citizens commented, mostly negatively, about the piping project. “What will be the side effects of moving all that dirt?” asked one man. “The ditch water now is used in case of fires,” a woman said. “There will be lawsuits. Is the city prepared to deal with those?” another asked. “In the end, the elephant in the room is climate change,” another man said.

            A piping proponent said, “Our primary concern is water conservation. Online maintenance would be substantially less (than for a concrete-lined canal). Would residents be required to pay for maintenance?” he asked.

            When it came to a vote, Councilor Dennis Slattery asked, “How are we going to go about disrupting these people’s lives? Where is the money coming from?”

            Because of Councilor Seffinger’s, and others’, concerns, Council delayed action on the piping project for three weeks to allow time to answer these questions.

            The Council also heard an appeal of Snowberry Brook, Phase II, in which the appellant said a requested locked gate at McCall Drive was not provided and parking requirements were not met.

            City Attorney David Lohman said, “No appeal can be raised to the Council that wasn’t raised to the Planning Commission. Arguments pertaining to parking are out of scope—only the gate issue will be considered. The City Council doesn’t have the authority to mandate a locked gate.”

            “You’re asking us to solve a problem, not rule on an appeal,” Slattery said.

            The Council voted unanimously to deny the appeal.  Jackson County Housing Authority can move forward with their plans for 60 units of affordable housing.

Addie Greene, Ashland