The City of Bend continues to refuse to consider alternatives to a $30 million, 10-mile-long, 30-inch pipeline for its Surface Water Improvement Project (SWIP) despite clear opposition to the plan expressed by voters last November. The city should reconsider based on the following.
The basis for an original recommendation of a large pipe was the Brown and Caldwell report of 2009, which recommended a 36-inch pipe because it would "provide a penstock that will fully support a hydro power facility" and "because it allows power to be produced."
Neither did the value engineering study of March 2011 by Robinson, Stafford & Rude question the need for the oversized 10-mile- long pipe. This was specifically because the city created severe and inappropriate limitations on the study by requiring the pipe be capable of serving a hydro power plant.
Preservation of the surface water system and meeting EPA requirements absolutely do not require a 10-mile long, 30-inch pipe.
From the beginning, the new pipe size has been dependent on providing for a hydro power plant. The city created severe and inappropriate limitations for a truly valid engineering report by telling engineering firms the new pipe needed to be able to supply a hydro power plant, leading to the large pipe recommendations from Brown and Caldwell and other engineering firms.
These instructions from the city meant we never fully vetted either a short pipe option or simply using the existing pipes because neither option would service a hydro power plant. Without a power plant, it is a totally unnecessary $25 million expense.
In 2009, Mayor Jeff Eager stated: "The lynchpin to this entire decision is the hydro project. If hydro doesn't work out... we don't have to upgrade our pipe." He also stated, "I just want to make sure we're not making a decision now by buying this steel that gives us a pipeline to nowhere if hydro doesn't work out."
Regardless, two years later city staff, claiming steel prices were at their low point and would be increasing, convinced the Bend City Council to purchase about $4 million in steel for the large pipe. Total speculation, and staff was wrong. Now they use that expensive purchase as a reason that use of the large pipe must go forward, because it is less expensive than changing to a smaller- diameter but still 10-mile-long pipe.
The foremost question remains, "Why is a new 10-mile-long, 30-inch pipe necessary?"
The answer is, it's not—except for possible power production.
Furthermore, the Brown & Caldwell study stated, "a more detailed analysis is needed to determine the integrity of the (existing) pipes."
B&C did not do it because the city was committed to a power project and repair of the old pipes was incompatible with that. A study to determine the integrity of the exisiting pipes still has not been done. It clearly should be done before spending $25 million on replacing them.
In January 2012, I suggested in Cascade Business Review that the pipe built in the 1950s should have at least as long a life as the pipe built in the 1920s, and that it alone could carry more than the average city demand if something happened to the older pipe that required a long shutdown for repair.
The city responded: "The two existing pipes are not being replaced simply because of age. There are numerous factors involved that expose both pipes to critical failure and expose the public to health and safety risks."
Of course any catastrophe can happen, but they haven't in 90 years. The pipes have served without "critical failure" from a storm or trees being uprooted. Why now?
Steel pipes carrying water to not catastrophically fail. Most of the argument presented by the city merely requires better maintenance and operation of the pipes and the right of way. Pipes can and have been shut down for maintenance and repair. Recently repairing a 6-foot split cost approximately $2,000. A thorough review of the maintenance program is warranted before spending $25 million for a new pipe.
In December 2011, Mayor Eager also said the city would "obtain independent analysis of the project... to review the underlying assumptions the city used in reaching some of its decisions."
But the city refused to review the most costly and controversial aspect of the project: the $25 million pipe. They again absolutely refused to look at a short pipe option or repair of the existing system. WHY?
This persistent refusal to review such a costly element really makes one wonder if the city has an indefensible position that would cause great embarrassment if exposed.
As evidenced by the results of November's election, city residents are extremely concerned with the expense SWIP, especially considering the costly sewer projects the city will soon undertake. This project can be delayed while the most costly and controversial element can be thoroughly reviewed. There is plenty of time, and an unbiased review might save tens of millions of dollars. It also could prevent more lawsuits. City residents deserve that.
Allan Bruckner is a businessman and 40-year resident of Bend. He served on the Bend City Council in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was mayor in 1992.