It is possible--but difficult to imagine--that the city could screw up even more. The debacle over the Mt Tabor reservoirs continued last week when the city tried to recoup money from the floating caps intended to protect Portland's waters from terrorists--by selling them on eBay. According to the eBay listing, the city originally paid $398,000 for the rubber caps. With an opening bid of $150, the city ultimately managed to pull in $18,100--or less than five percent of the covers' original price tag.

Then, to make matters even more pathetic, city officials freaked out over the low selling price and tried to rescind the sale. (An absolute no-no for eBay auctions.) Whether the city will be allowed to back out of the deal now remains unclear.

Last week's auction on eBay only added to the perception that city council and, more specifically, water bureau employees are running around like headless chickens. The story began weeks after September 11, 2001, when city council scurried around to secure Portland from the threat of plotting terrorists. Responding to unsubstantiated warnings about terrorists poisoning water sources, city council moved forward with a massive plan to cover and protect the city's reservoirs. (Interestingly, the same consulting firm that rang the alarm bells was later awarded a multi-million dollar contract to design the caps.)

In spite of public testimony opposing the idea, city council voted in May 2002 to place the caps on the reservoirs anyway and quickly commissioned the tough rubber lids for a material cost of $400,000. But nearby residents organized several successful protests and filed lawsuits to stop the plan. They succeeded this summer when city council finally conceded to their recommendations and decided they wouldn't cap the reservoirs after all. However, that left Portland saddled with some very expensive rubber caps and nowhere to put them.

Overall the city has sunk more than $4.3 million into the reservoir caps. The $18,100 would be the only money recouped by the city.