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Forget it, Jake, its just P-town

Phil Stanford/Best of Phil

This column originally -appeared Nov. 4.

Just so we're clear on this point: No one is suggesting that there's anything corrupt about the City Council's umpteen million-dollar plan to cap the city's reservoirs.

But as Doug Larson says, it does remind him a little bit of the movie 'Chinatown.' You know, the Roman Polanski movie, starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, about L.A. back in the '30s. If you haven't seen it, you ought to rent it right now. Without giving away the ending, it's about a plot to steal the city's precious water supply Ñ which, as far as anyone knows, is not what's happening here.

But Larson says it still reminds him of 'Chinatown.'

'It's just that there's so much money involved,' he says. 'There's millions to be made on this project. Millions.'

It's something that Larson might know about, since he has a Ph.D. in limnology, which is the science of water. He also knows a thing or two about the way things are done at the water bureau.

Back in 1993, Larson, then recently retired from the Army Corps of Engineers, got crosswise with the bureau when he had the nerve to speak out publicly against some of its logging practices in the Bull Run watershed.

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When he did so, high-ranking officials at the bureau took it upon themselves to attempt to discredit him with groups he was scheduled to address.

One of the officials, Joe Glicker, then director of water operations, was particularly active in the attempt to ruin Larson's reputation. At one point Glicker wrote a letter to the organizers of an academic seminar, claiming that Larson would 'talk about a topic with which he has no professional relationship.'

Of course, since Larson held a doctorate in the subject, this was at the very least misleading.

Larson sued the city for defamation and harassment, naming Glicker and two other water bureau managers in his lawsuit Ñ and won. The city gave him $73,000 and offered a public apology at a City Council meeting.

But what, you may well ask, does any of this have to do with the city's latest scheme to cover the reservoirs?

In 1994, Glicker Ñ who by this time had been promoted to chief operating engineer Ñ retired from public service to join the local office of a consulting firm called Montgomery Watson. He's now in charge of the office.

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There's really nothing that unusual about Glicker's move to Montgomery Watson. In fact, there is a long-standing practice of high-ranking water bureau members retiring to cushy jobs at Montgomery Watson.

In fact, there are those who will tell you that Montgomery Watson Ñ a for-profit organization, whose every incentive is to dream up moneymaking ventures to be financed by the city Ñ effectively runs the Portland Water Bureau.

Whether or not this is so, it is a fact that Montgomery Watson is the firm that provided the water bureau with the study that recommended covering the reservoirs.

As it also happens, it is the firm that is currently engaged to conduct a $5.89 million design study for the project.

And unless something goes seriously awry, Montgomery Watson will be in an excellent position to nail down the eventual construction contract for this multimillion-dollar boondoggle.

So maybe Doug Larson can be excused if he thinks it's all a little bit like 'Chinatown.' Of course, no one's brought any herds of sheep to City Council meetings yet. But the way things are going, it might just be a matter of time.