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The Bulletin's Switcheroo on SWIP 

The Bulletin has recently become Bend's cheerleader for the $70 million project to pipe and treat creekwater. All the cheering in the world won't overcome the federal injunction that halted construction in October. Nevertheless, Bend's daily is urging city councilors to forge ahead without allowing public input (Bend Should Stick with Water Plan, Feb. 20, 2013) on new alternatives that would allow continued use of surface water, save tens of millions and minimize litigation risk. Those options likely remain a mystery to the editorial board because The Bulletin has never reported on the attributes of those alternatives.

Reconciling The Bulletin's new position with dozens of its prior editorials is an even bigger mystery. For years, it implored councilors to: (1) allow greater public input; (2) obtain an independent analysis of alternatives; and (3) independently evaluate environmental impacts. Inexplicably, The Bulletin now contends that the project should proceed without the public input or scrutiny it previously demanded. Perhaps The Bulletin needs reminding of its past advice. To that end, here are excerpts of its past editorials:

"[C]ouncilors should be prepared to back out if the rosy assumptions...continue to crumble." (Water Project Merits Skepticism, Aug. 25, 2010)

"[C]ouncilors ought to...commission an independent outside analysis...[T]axpayers deserve the benefit of a thorough and credible analysis before the city commits their hard-earned money to such a hugely expensive project." (Delay City Project, Dec. 1, 2010)

"Given the concerns that have been raised about the city's surface water project—not only about cost, but also about impact on the Deschutes River—they're right to believe a delay makes sense until a credible independent analysis can be done." (Clinton, Teater Did What's Right, Dec. 5, 2010)

"Council has decided, in essence, to ignore the critics and forge ahead, presumably hoping that the controvesy will fizzle as the surface water project gains momentum... Though we've had our differences with WaterWatch over the years, we share the group's [environmental concerns] in this case." (Water Diversion Plan is Off Course, Dec. 13, 2010)

"For the leaders of the city of Bend: a report, prepared by elves, on the comparative costs and benefits of the city's preferred municipal water project... Elves aren't known for their economic and engineering expertise, we'll admit. But whatever they come up with is likely to be more credible than the analysis commissioned by the city." (The Bulletin's Christmas Gifts, Dec. 24, 2010)

"Were the water system upgrades a small-potatoes affair, we might agree that asking for an independent review of the two proposals is too time-consuming and expensive to justify. But $58 million is far from small potatoes." (Look at Options, Jan. 11, 2011)

"The city's case for its surface water project becomes shakier by the week." (City Reaching with Carbon Argument, Jan. 31, 2011.)

"[T]he city played fast and loose with the advice of experts...There's something else at work, as well, we suspect, ego or pride, or simply not liking to admit that something you've committed to may not be all you thought it would be...Those who have criticized the Bridge Creek project are not a bunch of off-the-wall malcontents. Rather, they've gone to experts of their own who question the numbers and logic behind the city's decision." (Water Project Does not Need Surprises, July 2, 2011)

"Finances are not the only concern, though they're major ones...[T]here have been questions aplenty about water flows and alternatives raised about the Bridge Creek project." (Bend Water Project Whiplash, Aug. 5, 2011)

"The critics say the city would be wiser [to consider other alternatives]...Opponents are not a bunch of kooks, which makes the city's reluctance to seriously consider what they have to say all the more puzzling." (Bend Needs Your Input on Bridge Creek Water Plan, Aug. 25, 2011.)

"City staff may be confident that...the project will go through and the project's opponents will lose appeals. We'd argue it's much more certain that the project's outcome is uncertain." (Steel Pipe Purchase a $4 Million Gamble, Sept. 21, 2011)

"What not always good at is listening—especially when there's evidence the city needs to swerve in a different direction...The concerns of the critics cannot be dismissed easily. It is an informed position. It's made up of a significant collection of business, environmental and legal interests...What [councilors] have failed to do is make it clear to the public that the city's choice is the best choice for Bend...[Councilors] failed to get an objective analysis comparing the choices. That's scary...Councilors voted 6-1 to move ahead...almost a year ago. Why then, they have asked, are all these questions coming now? We can think of 70 million reasons. There are effects on Tumalo Creek. The project's price tag and design has changed over two years." (Bend is Scared of Questions on Bridge Creek, Sept. 26, 2011)

"Are thin-skinned about Bridge Creek, they can't handle a forum they don't control?...[P]icking HDR to do the analysis is asking somebody who has a multimillion stake in the outcome to make an analysis. That's not neutrality." (Bridge Creek Decision Failure, Oct. 2, 2011)

"A critical assumption of the Bend City Council's planned $68 million surface water project has gone mushy. The city must rethink the project." (Rethink Bend's Water Project, Nov. 9, 2011)

"[Councilor Capell's] brother works for HDR...The company has contracts for...the $68 million Bridge Creek surface water project...[Capell] should not be guiding or even participating in discussions." (Councilor Capell Should Follow the Spirit of the Law, Nov. 18, 2011)

"For many years in Bend, the political divide was and slow-growthers. But today, many of those former adversaries are on the same side, sharing concerns that city staff and councilors are headed down the wrong path in planning Bend's water future." (Water Dispute Spawns New Political Alliance, Dec. 2, 2011.)

"[W]hen the city is going to be hiking up water rates to raise $70 million, it needs an independent firm to evaluate the financials." (Councilors Should Support a Water Do-Over, Dec. 16, 2011)

"Nothing will send the city of Bend's credibility plummeting faster than treating interactions with residents like a spin zone...It sounds like selling, not like outreach. It's spin. That language feeds into what critics of Bridge Creek have been saying: The city decides what it is going to do and wants residents to catch up." (Get Bend out of the Spin Zone, May 5, 2012)

In dozens of editorials for two years, The Bulletin got it right when it repeatedly demanded the city to engage the public, obtain independent analysis of alternatives and evaluate the impacts on streamflows. Unfortunately, The Bulletin quit covering both sides of the controversy, and its editorial board seems to have forgotten the sound reasons it gave for making those demands. Perhaps when confronted by the brilliance of their own past work, members of the board will be awakened from their amnesic stupor to once again champion fiscal and environmental responsibility through transparent public policy.

Bill Buchanan is a Bend attorney who collaborates with local businesses and nonprofits to solve problems.


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