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Council made correct decision on reservoirs

Portland's City Council acted appropriately when it passed the $65 million security package last year.ÊIts centerpiece is replacing the open drinking water reservoirs on Mount Tabor with more secure underground storage facilities.

These water quality and public safety improvements are long overdue.ÊIt is unacceptable to allow 70 percent of the city's finished drinking water to be exposed in an open reservoir in a public park.ÊMany local and national members of the scientific and public health communities consider the threat posed by these open reservoirs as real Ñ and their existence, while beautiful, a disgrace.Ê

The Portland Utilities Review Board, the citizen's review panel on rate issues, voted unanimously last May to recommend that the council adopt this package.Ê Ratepayers currently are paying higher rates to help protect their drinking water from inadvertent or deliberate contamination in these exposed reservoirs.

The city fell a bit short by not including a better estimate of the true costs of the security package.ÊSufficient funds were not included for facilities on top of the buried reservoirs.ÊConsequently, the price tag of the package has now jumped nearly 17 percent, to $76 million, when the aboveground improvements are added.

The council and the review board could have been more aggressive in highlighting this shortcoming during the budget process and focused more attention on how to pay for the total costs.

A local group has organized and is agitating for action aimed at preserving the open reservoirs on Mount Tabor.ÊNot content with working with the city to shape the new park space, the group is calling for a review of the fundamental decision and focusing attention on perceived 'conflicts of interest' and related political shenanigans.Ê

These secondary arguments should not detract from the basic issue of public safety and the need to replace an aging and outdated infrastructure.

The council's fundamental decision to create covered storage on Mount Tabor, while distasteful to some who live near the reservoirs and others who recall beautiful moments in that quiet park, is still the correct one.

Jim Abrahamson, a former chairman of the Portland Utilities Review Board, lives in Southeast Portland.