Guest Commentary by Former Bend Mayor Allan Bruckner
The basis for recommending the 30” pipe was the Brown and Caldwell report of October 23, 2009. It recommended a 36” pipe because it would “provide a penstock that will fully support a hydro power facility so that power produced will help pay for water treatment facilities”. It followed with recommendation #1: “replace lines because it allows power to be produced”.
It is very clear that the project was predicated on various incentives and subsidies that allowed the power plant to be a substantial revenue generator, which was estimated to pay for 60% of the pipe (penstock). But hydro power incentives went away and the project became uneconomic. Preservation of the surface water system and meeting EPA requirements absolutely do not require a 10 mile long 30” pipe.
In fact the month before the B&C report was made public, Mayor Eager at the September 16, 2009 Council meeting stated: “the lynchpin to this entire decision is the hydro project….. if hydro doesn’t work out …..we don’t have to upgrade our pipe at that point”. At this meeting staff requested the Council approve purchasing steel for the pipe because steel prices would be increasing. Because of this Mayor Eager continued the above statement with “I just want to make sure we’re not making a decision now by buying this steel that gives us a pipeline to nowhere if hydro doesn’t work out”. (I wrote the Council at that time stating “purchasing steel pipe at this time, in fact commits the city to the $70 million project. Further, savings on the pipe purchase is conjecture, prices could fall, and at best any potential savings would be a very small percentage of the project. This is more a method of commitment than a cost saving device”).
The pipe was not purchased at that time. But staff came back in September, 2011 again claiming steel prices were at their low point and will be increasing. They convinced Council to purchase about $4 million in steel. Total speculation and staff was wrong. (Generally prices do not increase in a recession). Now they use that expensive purchase as a reason that use of the large pipe must go forward.
The foremost question remains, why is a new 10 mile long 30” pipe necessary? It’s not – except for possible power production. The condition of existing pipes has never been determined with certainty. The need to replace them has never been proven. Again the B&C memo of September 28, 2009: “a more detailed analysis is needed to determine the integrity of the pipes”. It was not done by B&C because they were committed to a power project and repair of the old pipes was incompatible with that. B&C did spell out some of the problems and made a variety of maintenance recommendations and suggestions for better operation by the City (some valves and pressure controls have been inappropriately removed by the city). The most expensive overhaul of the pipes was one-third the cost of a new 30” pipe. Clearly much of the problem, which can and should be corrected, is lack of proper maintenance and operation of the pipes and the right of way. They also stated “the do nothing option is always available”. Determining the integrity of the pipes still has not been done. It clearly should be done before spending $25 million on replacing them.
The value engineering report by Robinson, Stafford & Rude, of March 2011, recommended reducing the pipe size from 36” to 30”. It noted this gave a “consequential small reduction in long term potential for hydro power revenue”. It is clear that their recommendation was dependant on retaining the potential for hydro power. This was because in the introduction to their report they noted “SWIP consists of “….. Construction of a new 10 mile long raw water transmission main; and construction of a hydro power facility …..”
Again the recommendation for a 30” 10 mile long pipe was dependent on providing for a hydro power plant. Therefore they did not review the possibility of a much less expensive short pipe option or repair of the existing pipes. The City has noted “instructions to the VE team included informing them of City decisions made prior to the beginning of their study efforts. Moving the point of diversion was one constraint the City has already thoroughly evaluated and eliminated….” These are severe and inappropriate limitations for a truly valid value engineering report. The value engineering report therefore did not allow studying the short pipe option or make any findings regarding continuing to use the existing pipes, again because they would not service a power plant. Clearly replacing the existing pipes with a 30” pipe is solely for a potential power plant and, without a power plant, it is a totally unnecessary $25 million expense.
In January 2012 I suggested in Cascade Business Review that the pipe built in the 1950s should have at least as long a life as the pipe built in the 1930’s, and that it alone could carry 6mgd (more than the average city demand) if something happened to the older pipe that required a long shut down for repair. The city responded thusly: “the two existing pipes are not being replaced simply because of age. There are numerous factors involved that expose both pipes to critical failure and expose the public to health and safety risks. Both of the existing pipes are known to have tree roots and are difficult to access. A storm could critically damage or sever the pipes if trees were uprooted. In addition, modern pipe design is to keep average or sustained velocities below six feet per second. Both pipes have sustained velocities that exceed 11 feet per second, which erodes the inter pipe lining in both pipes. Pipe lining and tree roots have been found in the city’s reservoir where the water is currently treated. The new pipe will last 100 years or more and will be easier to maintain under Skyliners Road”.
Of course any catastrophe can happen, but they haven’t in 90 years. The verbiage in defense of the need to replace the pipes does not stand up to investigation. They have served for 60 and 90 years without “critical failure” from a storm or trees being uprooted. Why now? Steel pipes carrying water do not catastrophically fail. Most of the argument presented merely requires better maintenance and operation of the pipes and the right of way. There was no comment on why the newer pipe cannot be expected to serve until it is at least as long as the original, 30 more years. Pipes can and have been shut down for maintenance and repair. Recently repairing a 6 foot split cost approximately $2000. A thorough review of the maintenance program and expenditures is warranted before spending $25 million for a pipe that is needed only for a highly unlikely power project.
In December 2011 Mayor Eager said the city would “obtain independent analysis of the project ….. to review the underlying assumptions the city used in reaching some of its decisions. This led to the March 7, 2012 Council hearing. But the city refused to review the most costly and controversial aspect of the project: the $25 million pipe. They again absolutely refused to look at a short pipe option or repair of the existing system. WHY? This persistent refusal to review such a costly element really makes one wonder if the city has an indefensible position that would cause great embarrassment if exposed.
As evidenced by the results of November’s election, city residents are extremely concerned with the expensive SWIP, especially considering the costly sewer projects the city will soon undertake. This project can be delayed while the most costly and controversial element can be thoroughly reviewed. There is plenty of time and an unbiased review might save tens of millions of dollars. It also could prevent more lawsuits. City residents deserve that.