Water: The Infrastructure Must Be Sound & Affordable. We Want Choices & Discussions!
Water: The Infrastructure Must Be Sound & Affordable. We Want Choices and Discussions!
This past week, the Ashland City Council voted to move forward with the staff’s recommendation to build a new water treatment plant. The expected cost―in excess of $23 million. The rejected alternative is to rehabilitate the existing treatment plant at a cost of approximately $6 million. The most compelling reason for building the new plant is that the existing plant is vulnerable to natural disaster.
- Flood: The existing treatment plant is susceptible to flooding, which has occurred three times in the last fifty years. This threat can be mitigated. The new plant would be situated on higher ground, above any flood threat.
- Earthquake: Both the existing and a new treatment plant would be susceptible to seismic events, from resulting landslides and possibly more serious structural damage. The city recognizes there is no sure remedy for this for either alternative. The engineering expert consulted lacks specific seismic expertise suggesting a closer analysis. A new plant, which would be situated on a plateau, would also be susceptible. If past is prologue, the epicenter of a Cascadia subduction zone seismic event would likely be 100 miles off the southern Oregon coast; and the magnitude would be in the range of 6.0 to 8.0 inland and, at the coast, much higher. The most serious damage would be to roads, bridges, and other infrastructure. Even with a new plant constructed with some awareness of seismic concerns, we still face serious damage to the five reservoirs and pumps that deliver the water to our homes, none of which have been seismically retrofitted.
The third threat that we face is from wildfire. Wildfires move uphill, not down; and structures located near creeks are usually surrounded by more green foliage that can resist fire. The current plant is located in a kind of gully surrounded by rock, with some foliage that is by the creek that runs alongside of it. The new plant site is on a plateau of sorts above Lithia Park surrounded by foliage, trees, and rock in a fire zone between a dense residential area and forest; hence it could be impacted by wildfire more than the existing plant. This was addressed only as a hazard for the current plant in the report to the City Council from the engineer, who has no expertise in “fire-wise” construction.
These natural disasters are the major reason for considering a new plant. Staff had no “expert” eyes on the extent of each threat nor ways to mitigate each potential threat. A “big” picture is needed before going forward.
Now consider the economic cost to Ashland residents, property owners, and businesses for the decision that the council made. Staff must provide funding sources for this new capital improvement project before moving ahead. Funding for a new water treatment plant comes from fees (utility bills) and rate increases (water usage). Since 2013, water rates have increased 10% over four years with a projected yearly increase of 8% per year for another four years. It is further projected that, after these annual increases, there should be a slow decline in rates accompanied by an increase in base fees for water use. In addition, we know that a long-term debt repayment mechanism would have to be implemented in order to cover the cost of this mammoth $23+ million dollar project, most likely in the form of a bond issue that we’ll see in our property taxes.
There is no more vital infrastructure for a city than its water supply and infrastructure; we cannot live or thrive without it. Now is the time for public feedback, before staff spends hundreds of thousands of dollars, before a multi-million-dollar “done deal” is imposed on citizens. Moreover, the City Council and staff must stop spending money the city doesn’t have: a 19% increase in the 2017-2019 biennium budget with a growing deficit of $2,500,000 to date. Ashland is living far beyond its means, as exemplified by hiring four police officers with no revenue stream to pay for them and the purchase of Briscoe School with no plan for how to pay for it. Before committing to a multimillion-dollar capital project for a new water treatment plant, taxpayers must be assured that it is the best of alternatives and must know how it will be paid for or use it. In fact, let’s remain open to consideration of other sustainable alternatives including rehabilitation of the existing water treatment plant, which we could retrofit for flood damage at a cost of $6,000,000+.
Here is a first step: Before a new water treatment plant becomes a DONE DEAL, please show up: Saturday, April 14, 9:00-10:00 am at the Washington Federal meeting room next to Coffee Espresso – 175 Lithia Way.