If approved, a new water district board would exclude East Portland from voting, election

The Sandy River Basin Watershed Council and East Portland Action Plan are two of several community groups opposing a Portland ballot measure that would create a new water and sewer district board for the city of Portland.

If approved by voters May 20, Measure 26-156 would transfer utility-rate setting responsibilities and control of the Portland’s water and sewer services, managed by the Portland Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services, to an elected, unpaid board of directors.

Backers of the measure, who complain utility rates are too high due to irresponsible spending, include large industrial water users, such as Siltronic Corp., a company that uses about 1.5 percent of Portland’s water to clean silicon wafers it manufactures along the Willamette River.

Numerous conservation and community organizations are opposed to the Portland Public Water District and have united under the political campaign, “Stop the Bull Run Take Over.”

Those in opposition fear the board would be susceptible to corporate interests and could put the future of the region’s rivers and water supply at risk, including the Sandy Basin’s Bull Run Watershed.

“The measure has all sorts of problems,” said Steve Wise, executive director at the Sandy River Basin Watershed Council.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Steve Wise“While claiming to answer concerns about rising rates, the ballot measure defines no mechanism to lower average customers’ water and sewer rates,” Wise said.

The measure also would exclude a large number of East Portland residents from voting or being elected to the water district board, as it would be based on the Portland Public Schools’ district boundaries.

In certifying the ballot measure, Multnomah County Judge Leslie Roberts determined the proposed water district would leave areas outside Portland Public School District — including most East Portland neighborhoods — unrepresented.

Judge Roberts wrote, “There is a serious issue about what would be the result of the large area of the city not within the Portland School District … whether it is the exclusion of those areas from the district, or whether it is the abandonment altogether of the zones as described in the measure.”

The initiative does not include the David Douglas and Parkrose school districts in East Portland, or the Centennial and Reynolds school districts, which draw 60 percent and 20 percent, respectively, of residents from East Portland.

Wise said the measure also does not ensure the continuing of conservation programs that are in place to protect the region’s rivers, the Bull Run water supply and restoration in the Sandy River, and it could eliminate effective green infrastructure programs that keep polluted runoff out of the Willamette River.

Bob Sallinger, conservation director at the Audubon Society of Portland, said the measure reflects corporate interests, and not the community.

“It was put together by a small group of corporate entities,” he said. “Any measure that purports we return government to the people and lose out on a quarter of the population has some real challenges,” he said.

Chief proponents of the Portland Public Water District, who collected enough Portland voter signatures to qualify it for the May ballot, are former industrial lobbyist Kent Craford and Floy Jones, co-founder of the Friends of the Reservoir organization.

A recent report by the Portland City Club dismissed the notion that the measure would lower rates by stating, “Rates will continue to be subjected to upward pressure regardless of the utilities’ governance structure.”

The nonprofit, nonpartisan civic organization also said, “The measure is poorly structured and is likely to be subject to legal challenges.”

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