Columbia corridor property owners to pay city drainage utility fees


Compromise phases in new rates over four years

Property owners in four decades-old drainage districts serving customers near the Columbia River in Portland, Fairview and Troutdale will pay a new utility fee to the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services.

Under a deal ratified by the Portland City Council last week, owners of more than 650 riverfront condos, 21 multifamily properties and more than 650 commercial properties will begin paying the same stormwater management utility fees that other Portland residents pay.

The new utility fee, which will total an estimated $10 million to $12 million a year, will be phased in over four years instead of two years, under a compromise plan approved by city commissioners. The drainage district property owners had been paying $600,000, but the Bureau of Environmental Services determined that was unfair to its other customers.

Property owners in the four drainage districts, created after World War I to prevent flooding of the Columbia River, won’t have to pay 35 percent of the stormwater fee, because the drainage districts manage stormwater on its members properties via a system of dikes and pumps.

A major chunk of the total bill will be assessed on the Port of Portland and tenants at its industrial parks, which own broad swaths of pavement that collect significant amounts of stormwater.

The four-year plan “is a substantial improvement over the previous proposal,” said Steve Johnson, Port of Portland spokesman.

As part of the deal, the city has agreed to become a customer of the drainage districts, said Dave Hendricks, director of special projects for the four drainage districts. The city would then reimburse the drainage districts for their work in protecting city assets from flooding. An engineering study, expected to be completed next March, will help determine how much the city will pay back to the drainage districts, Hendricks said.

The added million dollars soon to flow into the Bureau of Environmental Services will be used to reduce stormwater charges for its customers, rather than increase its total revenues. The savings are so small on individual homeowners’ bills, though, they people will hardly notice it.

One early estimate was a savings of 25 cents per quarter for a typical homeowner.