A coalition of groups that have long scrutinized the city's water bureau plan to announce an initiative petition tomorrow to wrest control of Portland's water supply from city bureaucrats.
Calling itself the Portland Public Water District (PPWD), the group is apparently an amalgamation of Friends of the Reservoirs, and Citizens for Water Accountability, Trust and Reform, a group spearheaded by Kent Craford, director of the Portland Water Users Coalition. Friends of the Reservoirs founding member Floy Jones is also a member of that group.
According to an e-mail circulating among supporters, the plan would create a seven-member elected board that would oversee water and sewer rates in the city.
"The board would create sorely needed oversight and accountability of the water (and sewer) Bureau, something Friends of the Reservoirs have sought for years," the letter says. "This board would end the archaic Commissioner-in-Charge 'Czar' form of utility management. Other goals are to end City Hall cronyism in the water and sewer bureaus and to address utility rates that have skyrocketed in recent years."
The group isn't talking much about the plan ahead of an official announcement slated for tomorrow at 9 am. Jones has not returned calls and e-mails about the initiative I've been sending since last night. Jones and Craford, though, have been outspoken about their belief city leaders aren't to be trusted with water and sewer rates, and recently co-wrote an editorial that ran in the Oregonian.
UPDATE, 3:11 pm:
While the proposal is still fuzzy, and things get complicated quickly when it comes to utility management, it seems the PPWD would be similar to the Clackamas River Water district, whose board has seen no shortage of tumult and dysfunction in recent years.
According to a supporter familiar with the plan, the group has ballot language and a framework all drawn up, and may be working with an outside entity to get the initiative under way. Secretary of State Kate Brown's website lists no formal committee registered under the name Portland Public Water District.
Commissioner Nick Fish, currently in charge of both the Portland Water Bureau and the Bureau of Environmental Services, said this afternoon he's leery of the push.
"My worst fear is it’s big companies, including big polluters, using a coalition of convenience to sell to the public a takeover of the Bull Run watershed in order to drive down rates for corporate ratepayers," Fish said. "The only way you can do significant rate relief in a fixed-cost system is to shift the cost."
Gripes over the city's use of water, sewer and stormwater revenues are long-standing. In late 2011, Craford and others filed a lawsuit alleging Portland inappropriately spent ratepayer money on projects that had little-or-no connection with the services they're meant for. Craford, who represents large companies who'd like a break in what they're paying for water and sewer rates, has declined to say who's bankrolling the suit.
More-recent indignation spilled into Mount Tabor Park over the weekend, as protestors attempted to convince the city not to drain its open-air reservoirs in compliance with federal rules. That project involves the construction of new reservoirs at Kelly and Powell buttes, and would contribute to an estimated 44 percent increase in water rates over the next five years.
Fish is quick to point out estimated rate increases often wind up being inaccurate. This year, for instance, water rates were estimated to rise by 15 percent, Fish says. They actually increased by 3.6 percent.
"Tomorrow we’re going to find out whether a group of people want to essentially take over our Bull Run watershed," Fish said. "I’ve seen very little transparency in this process."
Here's the e-mail that's going around:
The official announcement of an Initiative Petition to create a Portland Public Water District is set for this Thursday, July 18 at 9 a.m.. Please come stand with us at the press conference if your busy summer vacation, work, or family schedules allow such on short notice.
Where: PWB Interstate Building, 1850 N. Interstate, N. Tillamook just off N. Interstate
The Portland Public Water District initiative would establish a new Water/Sewer (stormwater) District within the City of Portland , removing utility management and rate-setting from City Hall politicians, setting up an independent elected board of 7 members with a limited-term chair.
The board would create sorely needed oversight and accountability of the water (and sewer) Bureau, something Friends of the Reservoirs have sought for years. This board would end the archaic Commissioner-in-Charge "Czar" form of utility management. Other goals are to end City Hall cronyism in the water and sewer bureaus and to address utility rates that have skyrocketed in recent years.
A very important goal is to realign water and sewer policy with community priorities.
The Portland Public Water District (PPWD) memorializes Bull Run watershed protections.
The Portland Public Water District prohibits privatization and regionalization of our water supply.
Additional points of interest:
-PPWD provides rigorous conflict-of-interest provisions where currently none exist.
-PPWD establishes board eligibility waiting periods for water/sewer contractors, employees, City Hall staffers and politically-appointed advisory body members
-PPWD requires disclosure of any water/sewer financial relationship be printed in the voters pamphlet