It has been a long time coming, and seemingly the City of Bend could not wait another day to start construction on the controversial Bridge Creek Pipeline Project, the effort to replace decades-old pipes with a single, larger 10-mile-long pipe to supply Bend with drinking and flushing water.
Originally, Bend's city council had hoped to start construction on the project nearly two years ago, but were stymied when a local conservationist organization filed an injunction to stop the project. The environmentalists were concerned that the pipe could unduly harm fish and wildlife that rely on Tumalo Creek, from where much of the water will be drawn.
That first injunction (yes, it is necessary to number the various lawsuits filed against this project; never a good sign) halted, but did not stop the project—and this past fall, Bend's city council once again pushed forward the pipe project. And, once again, Central Oregon LandWatch filed another injunction to stop the project, claiming that the pipe was larger than necessary and would drain fragile ecosystems beyond their capacities. Although the planned pipe is a 30-inch diameter straw, city council has placed limits on what the city will draw, a decision which has raised questions that while, yes, current amounts of water drawn from Tumalo Creek may not threaten fish, why build a pipe bigger than you plan to use? And, doesn't building a bigger pipe than necessary forecast that you—or future city councils—plan to increase the pipe's capacity eventually?
However, a federal judge did not agree with Central Oregon LandWatch and, in February, gave the go-ahead to the City of Bend to open up Skyliners Road to begin construction of a seven-mile stretch of the pipe.
Last Thursday, the City of Bend did just that, hosting a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the start of Phase One of the Bridge Creek water project (and, important to note, only Phase One; note the foreshadowing). The four city councilors who have supported the project—Jodie Barram, Victor Chudowsky, Mark Capell and Scott Ramsay—were in attendance and scrawled their autographs on a section of the new pipe.
All good, right? Full steam ahead? Actually, not quite so fast!
By removing the injunction, the green light given to the City of Bend by Judge Ann Aiken was only aimed at the seven-mile section of pipe that's to be buried under Skyliner's Road; really, that decision was more of a yellow caution light.
A second lawsuit that could limit the project is still lurking and pending. Part of the pipe project transverses federal land, and in addition to its failed injunction, Central Oregon LandWatch has also filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service. That lawsuit is still outstanding.
The upshot: If the court rules in favor of Central Oregon LandWatch's contention that the Forest Service issued permits without fully considering the environmental impact, the City of Bend essentially would have to abandon the pipe it is currently laying under the road; sort of like buying a very expensive ($24 million) straw, but not yet having permission or access to the milkshake.
City Manager Eric King has said that he is aware this has the potential to be a "stranded asset."
Oh city council, couldn't you just have waited until all the legal wrangling was completed before you started laying pipe? Stranding even $1 million worth of pipeline is too much of a risk. Here's the boot for your hasty ways.
And, A Remembrance
It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Aaron Karitis, a Bend native. Six months ago, we were thrilled to meet the adventurer and entrepreneur, and we published a profile about his travel company, Pulseline Adventure. He was a vibrant spitfire, and had put together his dream life—skiing, surfing, and getting paid to take people on their dream trips. On Saturday, while on such a trip and after examining conditions and skiing on a slope in Alaska, he was caught in an avalanche. He died on Monday at the age of 31. Karitis embodied so much of the adventurous spirit and kindness that makes Central Oregon a unique tribe of people.