The Ashland Canal (TID) Capital Project – Is It Needed?

            The City’s master plan for water infrastructure was completed in 2012 when it was accepted by the City Council.  In reading the summary of the plan, I’m struck by two facts:  not much is “on schedule” and 2012 cost estimates are far under the current projected costs for these same projects.  Moreover, some projects were completely changed.  All this makes me wonder about the worthiness of the $400,000 water master plan.

            Examples of cost “overruns” are astonishing.

  • Emergency Tap Pipeline/Pump – $2,000,000 estimate; $11,000,000 actual (S-15)
  • 2.5 MGD Water Treatment Plant – $12,000,000 estimate; $24,000,000 proposed estimate for 7.5 MGD Plant (T-10)
  • TID Canal Piping Starlite to Terrace Street – $1,100,000 estimate; $3,100,000 proposed estimate without landscaping expenses (S-11)

None of these proposals have a cost/benefit analysis that includes ALL expenses.  This must be the first task for City staff when presenting infrastructure projects to the public and to the council.  There are no such analyses on any infrastructure projects to date.  This is essential for decision making and for the public to scrutinize.

            Add to the lack of a full account of expenses is that an account of revenue to pay for the project is also missing.  Staff identify only two sources of revenue: STDs – development charges paid to the city – $100,000/year estimated.  The other source is the increase in water base rates and the supply rates to water customers.  What’s missing in this picture is the mandate found in the 2012 master plan to fund $43,000,000 of infrastructure primarily through grants, low interest loans, and municipal bonds.  Where are these other revenue sources when considering the revenue needed for water infrastructure?

            The latest infrastructure project that is being rolled out at the same time as the new $24,000,000 water treatment plant is piping the TID or Ashland canal.  This water supply project was a low priority according to the 2012 master plan.  Below are some facts to consider about the project:

  • 2012 master plan estimate was $1,100,000
  • 2018 engineers estimate is $3,100,000 without landscaping & removal of 300 trees
  • engineers identify this project as an “opportunity” not a “necessity”
  • engineers’ report states that most of the open ditch is in fair condition with isolated problems
  • at least 300 plus trees must be cut down so that construction can proceed
  • numerous cracks/breaches observed in the concrete liner, evidence of water seepage along the canal is not apparent (SBS report)
  • eighty-four properties along the canal will be affected
  • a 2011 water quality analysis upon which the project is somewhat based identified E Coli primarily around the Ferry Ponds above Lithia Park; the analysis was conducted by an SOU class 2010-2011 not a professional firm or agency

My opinion is that this project needs to be tabled because of no cost/benefit analysis, no confirmed revenue streams to pay for it, and the clear need for a better analysis of the real need for this project.

            One last comment, this is a twenty foot wide, two mile long clear cutting of trees and shrubs around the canal that is three to five blocks above Siskiyou Blvd.  Just imagine what that will look like for several years as tourists, family and friends drive into Ashland.  We already have the major destruction of a hillside just half a mile south of Ashland above Siskiyou from an illegal marijuana grow.  Moreover, the 21,000 residents living in Ashland, have a water supply that is quite adequate: a reservoir that we keep full by a vibrant water shed, emergency water supply from Medford that is available during the summer into the fall, and TID when we need it from May through October.  Let’s stop the unnecessary destruction of 300 plus trees and let’s not leave a horrible scar through the center of our town. Water supply or quality is not the issue; the issue is using common sense.