A majority of the Bend City Council voted last week to proceed with the pipe portion of the city's $68 million surface water improvement project.
The decision may mean there will be no public hearing on the installation of the approximately 30-inch-diameter pipe along Skyliners Road, which would replace two aging pipes that currently bring water from Bridge Creek to the city's water storage facility west of town.
Three councilors—Sally Russell, Doug Knight and Jim Clinton—voted to halt the project in favor of a major public involvement process.
Four councilors—Victor Chudowsky, Mark Capell, Scott Ramsay and Jodie Barram—voted to proceed with the city's current plan of installing the 30-inch pipe.
It was something of a surprise move from Chudowsky and Barram. Both had indicated support for gathering more information before proceeding with the project.
Chudowsky, who was elected to his first council term last November, had campaigned on a platform of concern about the surface water project but said that after carefully examining the council's options he felt the best option was to go forward with the 30-inch pipe.
"The time for a grand reassessment of the whole thing... it would be wonderful—if it was three or four years ago," Chudowsky said Monday. "I'm afraid the time for that has passed."
At the council meeting the group voted unanimously to maintain both a groundwater and a surface water system.
Chudowsky said, in that case, because of the costs already sunk into the design of the 30-inch pipe, as well as some "regulatory issues" with simply using the current piping system, he felt it best to avoid a full-scale public look at alternatives because of the time it would take.
The council is trying to time the laying of the pipe with a county repavement of Skyliners Road. Still, Chudowsky said the discussion does not have to be over.
"The vote we took last Wednesday doesn't necessarily preclude somebody from coming forward and saying, 'I have a better idea,'" said Chudowsky.
He said it is incumbent on Knight, who did propose an alternative plan at last week's meeting, or another councilor to propose something different, vet it and gain support for it.
Knight's plan is to hold off on installing a new pipe and instead use the current pipe from the 1950s until around 2025, when the county might be likely to repave Skyliners Road again. At that time, the city could upgrade the pipe if the community supported it and not lose any of the costs already sunk into the design of that pipe.
"There might be millions of dollars in savings," said Knight. "It's really more of showing an earnest effort to work with the folks at Landwatch."
Knight said he is hopeful that other councilors, such as Barram and Chudowsky, will have "woken up" to the need for more public involvement by the time the council meets next on Feb. 20.
As it stands, he said, Chudowsky is coming across to the community as a "flip-flopper" and Barram appears to have had a "lapse in understanding of her true morality" when it comes to allowing for involvement of the public in this process.
Barram did not return a request for comment Tuesday.
Knight said he did not expect an "awakening" from Ramsay and Capell.
Chudowsky and Barram were criticized by others, as well.
Paul Dewey, executive director of Central Oregon Landwatch, said he was extremely disappointed in Chudowsky and Barram's decision to proceed with the current plan without opening the decision up to more public comment.
"To do so before even hearing from the public is a violation of the trust people had in electing them," said Dewey.
Bill Buchanan, a Bend attorney who has strongly opposed the surface water improvement project, said he, too, was disappointed in Chudowsky's decision.
"He sort of played both sides of the fence all along, I now realize," said Buchanan.
The council will hold a public hearing on Feb. 20 about two other aspects to hear from the public about how best to comply with an Environmental Protection Agency rule requiring treatment of surface water for cryptosporidium, an organism found in Bend's surface water, that can cause illness.
The council's recent vote means members are also still open to input on the question of whether a hydropower plant should be part of the overall project.
Knight and other critics of last week's decision said they aim to bring a direct conversation about the pipe to the fore, as well.
"I think there's a lot of people that are upset," said Knight. "It ain't over till it's over."