By Associated Press • 

Water-project skeptics win control of Bend council

BEND — The November election has given skeptics of two major water projects a majority on the Bend City Council, a development that is likely to mean wariness about spending to promote rapid growth in a city known for it and new approaches to contentious issues such as housing density.

Two council candidates, Barb Campbell and Nathan Boddie, ran successful campaigns critical of the $60 million cost of upgrading a water-intake facility and pipeline and installing a filtration plant, the Bend Bulletin reported. They unseated council members who were in the majority on 4-3 votes to approve the projects.

Although it was interrupted by the Great Recession, Bend's growth in recent decades has been a notable Oregon story. Drawing young people for skiing and other outdoor recreation and retirees for the high-desert climate east of the Cascade Range, the city has seen its population quadruple since 1990. The most recent estimate has it above 80,000.

“The old council was made up in large part by development insiders ...,” Campbell said. “This election showed people want fair representation from the whole community, from the people who work in the service industry to those who work on construction, as well as the big-money development people.”

Campbell and Boddie said they won't try to halt the water projects, which they said would be throwing good money after bad. But they wouldn't have voted to start them.

Defenders of the projects say Bend has delayed spending money on its utilities and infrastructure, which leads to large costs and community “sticker shock” when it comes time to deal with problems.

“When I got onto council, there were overflowing manholes, with sewage flowing into the town,” council member Victor Chudowsky said. “When people see the price tag for addressing these things, there's a backlash. But once you get on the council and away from the fantasy world of elections, it forces you to actually govern and confront these issues.”

Ahead of it, the City Council has two large and intertwined challenges directly tied to accommodating newcomers: sewer work expected to cost $85 million and the urban growth boundary. The city proposed an expansion of the boundary in 2009, but state regulators rejected it, saying the city should encourage more density, fitting more houses into existing neighborhoods.

On one side of the issue is the argument that having more space for building will lower the cost of land and allow for more affordable housing to be built. On the other side is the idea that infill and density will encourage the sort of development that is traditionally more affordable, such as apartments and smaller houses.

Mayor Jim Clinton, who voted against the water projects, said he thinks the attitudes of the skeptics will hold sway. There's less outside money to finance the city's growth, a fact of life the city must face, he said.

“In the past, there used to be money to help you expand your sewer lines. But that has dried up, and we as a community need to foot more of the bill,” Clinton said. “The city has a tax rate that's capped very low and which we can't just raise. With this constraint in place, we have to be very careful with how we go, and sprawl is very expensive to maintain.”


Information from: The Bulletin.

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