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Council asked to spend $5.5 million to preserve Mount Tabor reservoirs

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PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - The City Council will consider the future of the Mt. Tabor open reservoirs next week.The City Council is being asked to spend $4 million over the next four years to repair, preserve and maintain the Mount Tabor open water reservoirs, and an additional $1.5 million to replace non-historic lighting in two of the three reservoirs in the future.

The request is included in a proposed resolution that could resolve years of disputes over the future of the three open reservoirs in Mount Tabor. The council has promised the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency it will disconnect the reservoirs from the water distribution system by the end of the year to comply with rules intended to prevent the spread of water borne illnesses.

The proposed resolution can be read here.

That decision is highly controversial and opposed by many Mount Tabor area residents and community activists. Despite that, the Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association and the Portland Water Bureau agreed to negotiate the future of the reservoirs if they are disconnected. Their agreement is contained in a proposed resolution submitted to the City Auditor's Office on Thursday that will be heard by the council next week.

The resolution seeks to commit the council to preserve the reservoirs as artifacts in their historic appearance, and to make progress toward restoring their original condition, as identified in a 2009 Mount Tabor Reservoirs Historic Structures Report. The resolution is being introduced by Commission Nick Fish, who is charge of the water bureau, and Commissoner Amanda Fritz, who is in charge of Portland Parks & Recreation, because the reservoirs are in a city park.

Fish and Fritz have not yet committed to support the resolution, and it is unclear whether the council will agree to the $5.5 million commitment.

According to the terms of the resolution, it seeks to, "Establish a cooperative agreement with the Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association to ensure that clean water will be maintained in the Mt. Tabor Park Reservoirs at the historic levels that produce the Park's iconic views, and to prioritize and implement the maintenance, repair and preservation of the Reservoirs and authorize funding for work identified in the 2009 Mount Tabor Reservoirs Historic Structures Report."

According to MTNA member John Laursen, "Neither side in the negotiation came away with everything it wanted, of course, but we feel that we were successful in procuring a commitment by the City to keep water in the reservoirs at the historic levels that produce the park's iconic views, as well as a commitment to preserve and maintain the historic structures. In earlier negotiations we succeeded in getting the disconnection to be made in such a way as to be reversible, and in saving a number of mature trees that otherwise would have been cut down during the construction process."

Laursen also says, "An important feature of the new agreement is a commitment by the bureau to work actively with the MTNA in the future on prioritizing the way money will be spent for the restoration efforts that were set forth in the 2009 Mount Tabor Reservoirs Historic Structures Report, as well as on devising ways to maintain clean water in the reservoirs in an efficient and sustainable manner. This collaborative arrangement will be a significant step forward for the neighborhood association and the bureau, and we expect it to be hugely beneficial for Mt. Tabor Park, the crown jewel of Portland's east side."

The council needs to decide the future of the reservoirs because it needs to approve land use change for the bureau to do the work necessary to disconnect the reservoirs. Because they are historic landmarks, the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission heard the bureau's original permit application. The commission approved it on the condition the bureau restore, preserve and operate the reservoirs in their original condition. Both the water bureau and the MTNA appealed the approval to the council.