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Sewer cost estimates staggering

It seems that the city of Lake Oswego is spending money like a drunken sailor. In the last decade, the city has bought new parks, constructed new schools, constructed athletic fields, bought the old Safeco building and has, in general, been spending money faster than most people can earn it.

Now we find we need a new sewer system and a new city hall. It seems that we have outgrown our existing 'new city hall.' It's not a very old building, but it apparently has mold problems. I believe we have outgrown it because of the real estate boom of the last several years. You don't have to spend much time in city hall to realize almost the entire building is dedicated to infill and property development.

How many more homes can be stuffed into Lake Oswego is anyone's guess, but if there's a way, the city will do it. How could the city allow new home construction to outstrip sewer capacity? That's a good question. It seems like common sense to me, before a new home is constructed, you make sure the infrastructure can support it. With the slowing of the real estate market and the saturation of infill potential, perhaps the need for more space will diminish.

As for the construction of new sewer capacity, cost estimates are staggering. $90 million was the last estimate. That puts the cost at $4,500 per lineal foot of sewer pipeline. When you compare that with the costs the Canadians are expecting for a new oil pipeline through the sensitive tundra, $4 per lineal foot, you got to ask yourself who is giving the city these prices?

I understand the pipeline structure being considered is unique. Lake Oswego is all about unique. It's a design that has never been tried before. And I'm sure once it's constructed, it will have unique problems just like city hall's mold. The price for those unique problems will probably be just as unique as the construction costs.

To base the payment of the new sewer facilities on property values is just wrong. It should be tied to the volume of water consumed. If it is tied to water consumption, it would at least motivate water conservation, our next infrastructure problem, approaching rapidly.

As far as the need for a new sewer pipeline because the existing line does not meet current earthquake standards, I would venture to guess that probably 80 percent of the buildings in Lake Oswego don't meet current earthquake standards. Does that mean everyone should tear their house down and rebuild? I don't think so!

For $90 million we should consider some alternatives. Now I'm not an engineer, but perhaps we could barge or truck the stuff around the lake (perhaps even airlift it). We could buy a few of these $300,000 homes the city mentioned in the Review a couple of weeks ago and build a surge facility to meter the stuff into the existing system at the existing capacity rate (we could even construct a new athletic field on top). As was so eloquently pointed out by Henry Germond in his letter to the Review April 5, the problem is not a continual one but only one of infiltration during rain events. There are a lot of potential solutions rather than building something untried and untested. How about a flexible pipeline laid on the bottom of the lake, siphon action would carry the stuff to the treatment facility. A pipeline could be constructed along the railroad right of way or even above the existing tracks. That wouldn't even require the use of a back hoe.

It just seems that if the Canadians can build an oil pipeline through the tundra for $4 per foot, Lake Oswego should be able to construct a pipeline for a lot less than $4,500 per foot.

J.J. Buley is a resident of Lake Oswego.

Editor's note: There is a bit of an apple-vs-orange problem here. The $90 million referred to is only an estimate of the capital costs associated with the sewer project. The costs include design, permitting costs and a variety of other infrastructure items, not just the pipeline cost. To infer a cost of $4,500 per lineal foot is not a realistic conclusion.