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Pump project stirs up Garden Home


Neighbors, county commissioner seek new alternatives

by: TIMES PHOTO:  JAIME VALDEZ - Neighbors in Garden Home have witnessed sewage leaks along the Fanno Creek Trail, a result of leaks and malfunctions from a pumping station run by the city of Portland. Plans for a new $25 million city of Portland pump station along Fanno Creek are flowing forward, despite strong opposition from Garden Home neighbors frustrated by a long series of leaks, overflows and malfunctions of the city’s wastewater line.

Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services recently issued a rundown of the construction project at the end of Southwest 86th Avenue in Garden Home, including details on electrical conduit installation, deconstruction of a vacant house on the site and installation of a $1 million hydraulic surge tank to absorb pressure in the lines when the station is operating. Department officials hope the surge tank will eliminate overflows from the system, when it becomes overwhelmed by stormwater runoff, onto the heavily traveled Fanno Creek Trail.

Work is expected on parts of the project from now through and May, while construction on the Southwest 86th Avenue Pump Station is scheduled to begin in late June and run through late 2015, according to a memo by Debbie Caselton in the department’s public affairs office. The city expects construction to “create some noise, vibration and dust and disrupt normal neighborhood activity” between the city’s standard construction hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Private contractors, who also may work the same hours on Saturday, are required to park only on city property, meet city of Portland codes concerning construction noise, avoid using compression brakes, back-up alarms and public address systems unless in the case of emergency.

Technically, work related to the project started last week, as crews from the Portland bureau began pruning invasive, non-native vegetation at the intersection of the Fanno Creek Trail and Southwest 86th Avenue on March 19.

In an email to Friends of Fanno Creek Trail, which includes many Garden Home neighbors opposing the pump station project, Caselton apologized for the lack of advance notice before work started.

“Although BES staff had been working with (Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District) to have this vegetation removed for safety of trail users, it was not supposed to happen without going through the proper approval process with THPRD and giving the public advance notice,” she said. “For this we apologize and want to assure the public and THPRD that there will be proper notification for any future activity” from the bureau.”

Washington County Commissioner Greg Malinowski, who has worked on behalf of the Garden Home residents opposing the project — who live in unincorporated Washington County — said he had not given up the fight to stop the project and work out a compromise. He’s been hamstrung lately, however, by his inability to get a face-to-face meeting with new Portland Mayor Charlie Hales.

“I’m not surprised they’re forging ahead,” said Malinowski, who’s put in two requests for a meeting with Hales but received just a single reply from a staff member in the mayor’s office. “But I’m going to send my request to him a third time and see if that works for him.”

He’s encouraged by the surge tank installation, but the commissioner agrees with many neighbors around the proposed station — a larger version of another pumping facility the city built on Fanno Creek in 2001 — that there’s little reason to believe this latest effort to alleviate malfunctions will be any more successful than past attempts to keep the trail free of overflows.

Seeking solutions

The city bureau agreed last fall to pay Washington County’s Clean Water Services $293 each month to divert storm and wastewater from the city’s Fanno Creek junction to its Durham Wastewater Treatment Facility. That’s in addition to $7 million the county agency charged the city for handling excess flows from the West Hills since 2008.

With support from Clean Water Services officials, Malinowski still hopes to convince Portland officials to bypass the costly pumping station plan and let CWS handle excess flows from the Portland lines. The city’s Fanno Creek lines require man-made pressure to push water uphill through the lines before gravity carries the flows across town to the city’s treatment facility on the Columbia River.

“We’ll see if the system works,” he said. “The surge tank’s gonna help quite a bit, to give it even more push. Maybe that’ll do it, but I don’t see how this is going to be better than sending it downhill to the treatment plant in Durham.”

Garden Home neighbor Michael Lilly is vocal opponent of the new pumping station plan. While his appeal last fall to the Washington County Department of Land Use and Transportation to stop the project was unsuccessful, he indicated he’s still working on an alternative to scuttle the pump station plan.

“I’d like to stop it, yes,” he said, noting that leaks along the trail have stopped only because the existing pump station has been shut down.”I do have additional plans, but I’m not in a position to make those public. I haven’t given up.”

While praising Malinowski’s efforts to support the opposition, Lilly is less satisfied with Washington County’s planning staff.

“I knew (Malinowski) was, and has been from the beginning, attempting to get the city of Portland to pay attention to the problem from our point of view, but they’ve pretty much blown us off, and at best pay lip service,” he said. “I think the (county) planning staff sold us down the river. The county planning staff is not protecting the county citizens.”

Neighborly support

While frustrated by his inability to make headway with the city bureau and Hales’ office, Malinowski is heartened by some concessions the city is making, such as an offer to relocate during the construction period a Garden Home neighbor whose child is sensitive to loud noises.

“During the construction earlier, he was extremely distracted,” Malinowski said of the child. “That shows me that (the city) is not going run roughshod over them. It looks like they’re making an extra effort, especially for this one family.”

That said, he holds out hope of a breakthrough through Hales office that could change the project’s course to satisfy the long-suffering neighbors.

“I’m taking this as a personal challenge to prove this will work,” he said of the Portland bureau’s plan. “I’m hoping to talk to Mayor Hales to see if a fresh pair of eyes might see something different.”

For updates on the Southwest 86th Avenue Pump Station construction project, visit portlandoregon.gov/bes/fanno.