Fish feels compelled to defend Water Bureau

PHOTO CREDIT: TRIBUNE PHOTO : JONATHAN HOUSE - Mount Tabor activists walk along one of the open reservoirs the City Council wants to disconnect by the end of the year.The City Council put off making a decision on disconnecting the open reservoirs in Mt. Tabor until June 25th at the earliest after new information and questions surfaced during Thursday's heavily-hyped hearing.

The two sides who faced off at the hearing — the Water Bureau and the Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association — were given until 5 p.m. on June 11 to submit new information to the council. Anyone else can submit new information, too.

The council is then tentatively set to meet on June 25 to consider the issue again, at which time it could make a decision.

Among other things, some council members said they wanted to know how long it will take the bureau to drain, clean and refill the reservoirs every year if they are preserved as historic landmarks. Some members also said they wanted to know how much it would cost to restore the reservoirs to their original conditions.

The end of the hearing was an anti-climax after hours of frequently emotional testimony. In the days leading up to the hearing, city officials had warned that anyone disrupting the hearing could be evicted and the balcony was closed to the public. Although some witnesses used swear words and insulting the council, none was evicted.

The question before the council is what conditions to impose on the bureau in exchange for granting it a permit to disconnect the reservoirs. The Historic Landmarks Commission has recommended the bureau maintain historic appearance of the reservoirs and restore them to their original conditions. The HLC is involved because the reservoirs are on the Historic Registry and the permit has to be issued through a land use proceeding that involves it.

The bureau appealed some of the conditions to the council, saying they are impossible or impractical to comply with. The Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association also appealed the permit approval because it does not true the bureau to comply with the conditions.

The hearing opened with such heavy criticisms of the Water Bureau that Commissioner Nick Fish felt compelled to defend it.

After representatives of the Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association and the Historic Landmarks Commission repeatedly accused the bureau of withholding important information and not engaging with the public, Fish, who oversees the bureau, said much of the criticism should be directed at the City Council.

According to Fish, the council has decide to disconnect the reservoirs and the city has negotiated a schedule with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the bureau is trying to meet. He said at least some of the criticisms are based on opposition to the disconnection decision.

Mayor Charlie Hales repeatedly told those in attendance that Thursday's hearing only concerned the appeals of the permit, not the decision to disconnect the reservoirs to comply with the EPA rules. Nevertheless, when citizen witnesses began testifying about two hours after the start of the hearing, many of them urged the council to stop trying to comply with the EPA rules and seek a waiver from them.

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