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Council to debate hydropower, revisit mayor question

The Bend City Council is expected to sign off this week on a $5.6-million hydropower option that should bring in enough revenue to avoid rate hikes.

The hydropower project would be tacked on to the already approved Bridge Creek Surface Water Improvement Project, which is estimated to cost $62.6 million.

HDR Engineering Inc., the city's consulting group on the project, made clear during a July 20 work session that revenue from the hydro facility would quickly exceed costs in its first year of operation (2014). HDR is billing the project - which, if approved, would provide enough energy to power approximately 1,000 homes - as having great environmental benefits. The impact on fish and other aquatic organisms was not discussed, though critics have questioned what incentive the city will have to leave water in-stream for fish after the project is completed.

Also up for review is a report from the Charter Review Committee, which recommended last month that the council make no changes to the current system of a directly appointed mayor. The recommendation was met with a mixed response from council members, with both Jim Clinton and Jodie Barram speaking out in favor of change.

Clinton wished to turn the decision over to voters while council members Mark Capell and Tom Greene said there were too few reasons to justify the expense of adding the measure to ballots, which is estimated at $20,000 to $30,000, in November. Scott Ramsay and Mayor Jeff Eager were both absent from the July 20 meeting.

The council is also expected to give City Manager Eric King the green light to award three contracts worth roughly $580,000 that will convert Bend's water meters to an automated system. Such a system is expected to reduce costs while providing real-time data to the city. The funds for the project are part of a $3.1 million federal low-interest loan awarded this month under the Obama stimulus package. (James Williams)

Federal Funding for Local Lands at Risk

Conservation groups, including several of Oregon's public lands watchdogs, have sounded the alarm over what they call an unprecedented attack on the environment led by Congressional Republicans. According to published reports and information from conservation groups, GOP House members are seeking to strip funding from dozens of programs related to the environment as part of the budgeting process. Among agencies that have been targeted are the Bureau of Land Management, which would be prevented from designating new wilderness areas, the Forest Service and the EPA. Locally, the funding cuts would strip money from programs that help pay for trail maintenance in places like the Badlands, that would, coincidentally, have been prohibited from being designated if this bill had been enacted five years ago.

"It would be heart wrenching if this funding were stripped away," said David Eddleston, of the local nonprofit group Friends of the Bandlands, or Fobbits.

In all, Republicans have attached more than 40 riders to the Department of Interior's budget, which GOP House members have described as a backlash against overregulation. In addition to funding cuts, many of which were rejected during the debt ceiling negotiations, Republicans also aimed to clear the way for controversial projects such as mountain top removal mining and increased oil and gas extraction in environmentally sensitive areas, including adjacent to the Grand Canyon. (Eric Flowers)

Bend UGB Watchdog Gets Props from State

Back in the halcyon days of Bend's housing bonanza it seemed the only thing that could slow down Bend's economy was a lack of raw land on which to build new homes. At least that's the story that builders and real estate professionals sold to the city of Bend. Thankfully, the original plan that was put forward and the ambitious land grab it contained was rebuffed by the state, which recognized the document as a blueprint for the kind of sprawl that Oregon has been fighting for 40 years. Much of the credit for turning back that plan, which could have further depressed Bend's real estate market and resulted in more toxic development investments, goes to land use watchdogs and the state's land use planners who pushed the city to create more transit-friendly corridors and required more development within the existing city limits. But part of the credit goes to individuals who refused to be steamrolled by a process that is as complex as any that a city government undertakes.

Last month, one of those individuals, Toby Bayard, was formally recognized by the state's land use planning board, the Land Conservation and Development Commission, which presented Bayard with its STAR award for citizen involvement. The commission said Bayard, who poured through thousands of pages of technical documents and laid the groundwork for a series of successful appeals, helped steer the city toward a better outcome for the UGB expansion. It also recognized that Bayard's work helped to involve hundreds of citizens who might not otherwise have participated in the process. Bayard did much of her work as a volunteer for the local land use watchdog group, Central Oregon LandWatch, said founder and executive director Paul Dewey.

"It was a great recognition of her," Dewey said. "Of course we immediately co-opted her and now she's on our board."

The work isn't over for LandWatch or the city of Bend. The city is currently reworking the proposed UGB in an attempt to address the state's concerns. The ongoing recession, however, and the fact that the city had to go to voters this year to fund ongoing street maintenance and routine upgrades may have tempered enthusiasm for such a pro-growth approach. (Eric Flowers)

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