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Lake drawdown issues raised

Like the MasterCard commercial says, some things in life are priceless. As a family that moved to Lake Oswego to live on and enjoy the lake, a summer season ranks as one of those experiences money can't buy. But the city of Lake Oswego doesn't think so. Engineers studying the interceptor sewer system have put a $3 million price tag on the summer of 2010, claiming that is the amount the city could save if we all deprive ourselves of that recreational season.

There are three lake drawdown alternatives the city lists on its Open House survey; however, at a May Open House that we attended, engineers really only talked about two - no drawdown with a much higher price tag, and one 12-consecutive month drawdown that the engineers present preferred. But as citizens and homeowners on the lake, we'd like the city to seriously consider the third alternative of two 8-month periods with a break for summer. We're not put off by the $3 million higher price tag because we think the 12-month drawdown has hidden opportunity costs which the engineers' linear perspective prevents them from seeing. In other words, in engineer-speak, the city stands to lose $3 million with a two drawdown scenario; in economist-speak, businesses stand to lose millions more with the city's preferred 12-month option.

We would hope the city would consider the following points when making its decision on how to proceed.

An engineer's cost analysis is linear, not taking into account external factors that also take their financial toll. Take for example, all lost revenue from hundreds of businesses and services caused by the closure of the lake. For example, gasoline sales in the area are probably $75,000 per season based on lake usage. Loss of revenue from hotel vacancies due to the empty lake could easily equal that loss. Consider each restaurant's loss of revenue because residents do not have out-of-town guests or they themselves leave the town to vacation elsewhere. Losses would trickle down to the supermarkets, drug stores and on and on, felt especially around the Fourth of July when partygoers spend thousands of dollars to entertain their friends while watching fireworks over the lake. We wouldn't be surprised if the estimated revenue drain based on the lake's closure exceeded $10 million. That's an opportunity cost the engineers did not calculate into their formula and makes the two 8-month period drawdown look like a bargain.

But what about those things that money can't buy? Engineers and economists look at the dollars and cents of an issue but as parents we are looking at the opportunity costs of the experiences that would be missed: A summer of boating and skiing for our kids and their friends … the annual Fourth of July fireworks on the lake … swimming lessons at the swim park … summer jobs for our teenagers at the swim park and the marina … entertaining out-of-town guests … enjoying the view of Lakewood Bay from Manzana's patio or Millennium Plaza Park … boating to the Farmers' Market. Summer only comes around once a year and for many of us Lake Oswegans it's a much anticipated season because of these experiences deemed as priceless.

Homeowners we've talked to don't realize that the sewer upgrade work that the city is considering could potentially result in the shutdown of our lake for one summer. Perhaps that's because they can't imagine anyone would consider that as an option. Or perhaps it's because not enough effort has been made to let the citizens of Lake Oswego know what the city is actually considering and what all of the drawdown options are. Now that we know and understand, we vote for the two 8-month drawdown that will preserve the summer of 2010 for us, our kids and all Lake Oswegans who enjoy and benefit from our city's namesake … Oswego Lake.

Kevin and Genita Costello are residents of Lake Oswego.