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Philomath stands firm on water reservoir in park

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This view, looking east from Ninth Street and into Marys River Park, shows the spot where a new concrete water system reservoir is planned to be constructed. Some Philomath residents think that non-park use of the property violates the agreement that led to the gift of the parcel in 1999.

Philomath has reaffirmed its intention to use a portion of Marys River Park for a piece of its new water treatment facility.

After six community members testified on Monday, Nov. 22, the City Council engaged in more than two hours of discussion before ultimately defeating a motion by Councilor Catherine Biscoe to enact a 30-day moratorium on the project on a 5-2 vote.

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A second motion by Councilor David Low called for the city to continue the project as planned. It passed 5-2. A final motion on the water treatment issue from Councilor Ruth Causey called for the city to consider expanding the park to the west onto city property south of the current treatment plant. The motion passed unanimously.

Key elements of the $16 million upgrade, whose cost exceeds that of the annual operations budget of the city, include:

• A new intake and pump station near the Marys River at the south end of the treatment plant property.

• A new concrete reservoir in the park, with a second new pump station nearby. An access bridge will be built at the reservoir across Ninth Street to connect the new fixtures with the new water treatment plant building.

The new infrastructure will more than double the city’s capacity, from 1 million gallons per day to 2.5 million gallons per day, according to city staff. Possible future expansion could bring that total to 3.75 million gallons per day.

The current plant was built in 1985 with technology that is now outdated.

City officials backed the park site because it is easier to make the budget for such a project pencil out when you don’t have to acquire property, they said. Also, the park is adjacent to the current water treatment infrastructure.

Opponents of the plan say it violates the agreement by which the city acquired the property and that the decision to move forward was made without sufficient community involvement.

“I’m opposed to using the park for a water treatment plant,” said Lawrence Johnson, one of those testifying at Monday night’s virtual meeting. “It’s a park, and it’s supposed to remain a park. The right of people to use the park is being infringed upon. The 28-acre gift was on the basis of it being a park and nothing but a park.”

The concrete water reservoir (no waste water treatment facilities will be sited in the park) will be approximately 15 to 20 feet high, said Christopher Brugato of Westech Engineering, who wrote the city’s water master plan. The reservoir will require 0.5 of the park’s 28 acres, Brugato said.

Biscoe expressed concerns that no city sign was put in Marys River Park “asking people what do you think of putting a water reservoir in your park. Everyone I have engaged with is in distress about it. Just because we are this far along on the project doesn’t mean it’s the right decision for Philomath.”

Brugato, in response to a series of questions on Biscoe’s motion, said that a 30-day pause would not affect project deadlines but that a search for a new site for the reservoir would likely add more than a year to the project timeline and cost perhaps as much as $2 million in additional expenditures.

Project officials had hoped to break ground last summer but were delayed by the pandemic and the length of time it took to acquire permits from the Division of State Lands and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. City officials said the hope is to begin construction by the middle of next year.

The $16 million project is being paid for with a combination of water rate increases for customers, systems development charges — the one-time fees charged to developers to help pay for the infrastructure required to meet growth-related needs for the city — and a $12 million grant from the state.

“I can guarantee that the $12 million will not be there two years from now,” City Manager Chris Workman said. “This project got on the list for the funding because it was shovel ready. The decision came out three years ago in the water master plan. That diagram (in the plan) has not changed. There was no outrage at the time.

“It’s really hard at the 11th hour or the 12th hour to say, ‘I didn’t know anything about it.’ Is this really the time to go back and explain the project all over again?”

On a separate but related issue, the council voted 7-0 to halt discussions of a bioswale in Marys River park until a presentation is made about the project and other options.

The bioswale is meant to capture storm water runoff from Highway 20/34 and is part of the city’s streetscapes project. The current plan for the bioswale includes a 40- by 200-foot catch basin along South Ninth Street and the use of an existing ditch to channel runoff to the Marys River.

Biscoe and others raised concerns at the meeting about a potential loss of trees to the project as well as native plant and cultural resource issues.

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@lee.net or 541-812-6116. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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