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Mt. Tabor reservoirs: Council approves preservation plan

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PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - The City Council has approved a plan to restore and preserve the historic reseervoirs in Mount Tabor if they are disconnected from the water distribtion system.The City Council approved a plan to preserve the three open reservoirs in Mount Tabor if they are disconnected from the water distribution system Wednesday — but postponed the final decision to actually disconnect them until next month for technical reasons.

The plan was spelled out in a resolution calling for the reservoirs to be restored and preserved in their historic appearance, including maintaining water in them at traditional levels most days of the year. The resolution was negotiated by the Water Bureau and the Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association, which represents the area that includes Mount Tabor and the reservoirs.

The resolution commits the council to spending $4 million to restore the reservoirs over the next four fiscal years, and to consider spending an additional $1.5 million to restore the historic lights at two of them.

"This is binding policy, the law of the land," Commissioner Nick Fish said of the spending requirements. Fish is in charge of the water bureau.

Mayor Charlie Hales and the other council members praised bureau officials and MTNA representatives for reaching agreement on the proposal intended to resolve years of public dispute over the future of the reservoirs. The council has agreed to disconnect them by the end of the year to comply with U.S. Environmental Agency rules intended to prevent the spread of water-borne illnesses. Many neighbors and other city residents do not believe disconnecting the reservoirs is necessary.

During the discussion, Hales also affirmed the resolution binds the council to spending $4 million on the reservoirs over the next four fiscal years and considering the other $1.5 million appropriation. Commissioner Amanda Fritz noted the resolution does not specify whether the money should come from the water ratepayers, the discretionary general fund or other sources.

Commissioner Steve Novick was the lone vote against the resolution. He said he felt uncomfortable committing future funds outside the normal budget process.

The resolution places conditions on a land use permit the bureau needs to disconnect the reservoirs. After the resolution was approved, the council directed city staff to prepare legal findings to support approving the permit and set Aug. 19 as the next hearing on it.

The MTNA agreed not to challenge the permit before the state Land Use Board of Appeals if the council approved the resolution. Other critics who testified on the permit could do so, however, including the grassroots Friends of the Reservoirs, which is considering it.