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PORTLAND, Ore. (The Portland Tribune) — The location of the Portland Water Bureau’s planned plant to filter Bull Run water continues to be controversial. Neighbors and several local governments in proximity to the rural site near Boring are planning to oppose it before the Multnomah County Land Use Planning Division, which must issue a conditional use permit for construction to begin.
The plant was approved by the Portland City Council in August 2017 to comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules to remove potentially deadly Cryptosporidium from the Bull Run Reservoir water that serves the city and much of the surrounding region. The plant is also designed to remove sediments from the water, including mud stirred up by heavy rains and ash fall from large fires in the Bull Run Watershed.
The project has long been opposed by nearby residents who believe the construction and continuing traffic to and from the plant conflicts with the rural area. The most recent opponent is the Gresham-Barlow District School Board, which passed a resolution against it on March 1, citing ongoing safety concerns about increased plant-related traffic in the area posing a threat to school children.
The resolution said the bureau has not responded to numerous safety concerns raised by the school district. It passed by a vote of 4 to 0 on Wednesday, March 1, with one member absent and two vacancies on the board.
“The safety of our students is always a priority in our district. We will never do anything that would compromise their access to learning or well-being,” board chair Dr. Mayra L. Gómez said of the resolution, which passed by a vote of 4 to 0, with one member absent and two vacancies on the board.
The resolution was supported by the Pleasant Home Community Association and Cottrell CPO, a regional government community engagement organization, both of which had previously opposed the plant.
The bureau said it was not aware the resolution was on the agenda until being contacted by the Pamplin Media Group on the day of the meeting. It submitted written testimony opposing the resolution. Bureau director Gabriel Solmer subsequently released the following statement:
“Ensuring safe travel for the community and for children to and from schools during and after construction is an extremely high priority for the Portland Water Bureau. To that end, the Portland Water Bureau has been actively engaging with the community, including the Gresham-Barlow School District and district transportation provider, since the inception of the federally mandated filtration project.”
Hazardous materials are a concern
Other project opponents include Multnomah County Rural Fire District 10, which is also concerned about the additional traffic on the rural roads serving the proposed plant, including the transportation of hazardous materials used in the filtration and treatment process.
“Accidental release of hazardous materials represents an ongoing hazardous condition that cannot be eliminated through best management practices, regulations, training or technology,” reads a district report forwarded to the water bureau on Dec. 20, 2022.
Bureau officials said such materials are safely used in other water treatment plants in Oregon and the nation. Their Multnomah County land use application includes a Hazardous Materials Management Plan that outlines storage, handling, and spill response procedures for them.
“Safety of both the public and our staff is a top priority. The planned water filtration facility will meet rigorous federal and state safety standards for chemical storage, transportation, and handling that are designed to protect workers and the public. Our safety protocols include robust accident prevention and emergency response protocols as well as regular safety training and special certifications for our operations staff who will oversee chemical deliveries and storage,” said bureau Operations Director Kimberly Gupta.
Opponents are not satisfied
“This project will not serve our local communities, including Gresham and Rockwood. Portland is attempting to solve their problem in a (Metro designated) Rural Reserve in unincorporated, east Multnomah county,” said Lauren Courter the secretary of the Cottrell CPO. “This project will significantly impact our roads and safety, schools, agriculture and farm practices.”
The project is being built in conjunction with a nearby facility intended to reduce lead in Portland water pipes. The current estimated cost of the Bull Run Treatment Projects is $1.49 billion. It includes direct project costs, indirect costs, inflation, bond reserves, interest costs, and a project contingency.
The property for the filtration plant is currently zoned Multi-use Agricultural 20 acres, which is why a conditional use permit from Multnomah County is required. Other permits are also required for the project, including a Geologic Hazards Permit.
The bureau has said it expects to break ground this fall on the filtration plant. It is planning for the project to be substantially complete and begin delivering filtered Bull Run water by Sept. 30, 2027.
That could be unrealistic, given the opposition.
The bureau recently submitted a completed application to the county, triggering a 14-day public comment period. After that a Hearings Officer will be appointed who will conduct a public hearing on the project. Water bureau officials and opponents are both expected to testify. The Hearings Officer will then either approve or deny the application. Either side can then appeal that decision to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals. The Oregon Supreme Court could make the final decision, a process that would likely take years.
“Some legal experts surmise that this could go as far as the Oregon Supreme Court due to this case setting a state land use precedent: taking farmland and negatively disturbing surrounding farmland practices for urban use,” said Courter.
The bureau must also receive approval from Clackamas County for water pipes to be installed under roads near the proposed plant. That process is not as complicated.