Bend candidates critique council

Candidates for Bend City Council who spoke at a forum Thursday night critiqued city officials for failing to plan for growth and not asking enough questions about expensive infrastructure projects.

The forum was for candidates running for two of the four City Council positions up for election in November. Candidates Victor Chudowsky, Wade Fagen and Barb Campbell are all seeking election to position 1; while incumbent City Councilor Kathie Eckman and challengers Ron “Rondo” Boozell and Sally Russell are seeking election to position 3.

The forum at City Hall was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Deschutes County, a nonpartisan organization that does not endorse candidates or measures. Candidates for the other two seats up for election will answer questions at a forum Thursday.

One incumbent present

As the only incumbent at the forum, Eckman listened to other candidates critique the current council for not asking enough questions about a $68 million water project and not responding adequately to the concerns of citizens.

“I enjoy listening to these comments, mostly because we’ve already tried to implement most of it,” Eckman said, after Russell proposed holding informal City Council meetings in different areas of the city to encourage interaction with citizens.

Many of the candidates said fixing the sewer sysstem, which is near capacity, is the largest infrastructure problem the city faces.

Chudowsky said he approved of the city’s decision to put sewer construction on hold and form a citizen advisory group, but he said the city needs to set a timeline for sewer improvements.

Campbell critiqued the council’s recent decision to hire a consultant to plan sewer improvements.

“I can tell you right now, the city of Bend is not planning the sewer system,” Campbell said, referring to a vote by the council in early September to approve a $1.9 million contract with Murray Smith and Associates Inc. for a new sewer system master plan. The company has offices in Springfield, Portland, Washington and Idaho.

“Can’t we keep that money in town?” Campbell said. Campbell said city employees cited a lack of office space and the need for expensive software as reasons to hire a consultant, but she believes $2 million should be enough to do the job locally.

Russell said people are beginning to realize that fixing the sewer system is “the huge issue” for the city, and it will be difficult to find the money to pay for it.

Eckman said sewer improvements are as important as, or perhaps more important than, the water project. Eckman defended the decision by the City Council to hire the consultant.

“Our staff is not qualified to do this consulting work, and they’re not qualified in Bend, either, which is why we have to go out to do that consulting work,” Eckman said.

Boozell did not propose a specific approach to the city’s sewer problems, but said he would not vote to issue bonds to pay for such work unless it was an emergency.

Mirror Pond problem

The question that prompted the widest variety of responses was how the community should handle Mirror Pond, where silt buildup will eventually create mudflats if nothing is done.

Chudowsky said if the cost to dredge Mirror Pond is on the low end of what experts have estimated — around $2 million — private fundraising could cover most of the bill and the city, Bend Park & Recreation District and Pacific Power could cover the remainder. Pacific Power owns the dam that created Mirror Pond. If the cost is closer to $5 million, the city should ask voters whether they want to pay for dredging, Chudowsky said.

Campbell questioned how the city, the park district and other members of a steering committee have approached the problem. Last week, the Mirror Pond Steering Committee decided to spend $100,000 to find out how citizens want to handle the issue.

“We need to find out what these projects will cost before we decide to blaze forward on them,” Campbell said.

Fagen said the question of what to do about Mirror Pond is his favorite, because his plan sets him apart from other candidates. Fagen said during his childhood, the water level was lowered and after the silt dried, it was removed. That is what he would like to do now. “You can simply go down in there and I promise we’ll get it done for $1 million,” Fagen said.

Eckman said environmental regulations limit the options, but the community needs to find a permanent solution. “If it means going back to a flowing river, then that’s what we need to do as well,” Eckman said.

Boozell said the city needs to resolve the issue sooner rather than later.

Russell described a lengthier process. “It will probably be a package of solutions with entities working together over time.”

Source: The Bulletin ©2012

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