Editorial: Public process on sewers worked well

Bend city councilors unanimously voted to approve a new sewer plan Wednesday in a session that was marked by a general air of calm on the part of the public. It was quite a contrast from meetings before approval of the city’s Bridge Creek water system improvements, which were noisy, rancorous affairs.

What a difference an active public involvement process can make.

The new sewer plan will cost the city and its residents about $89 million and take 20 years to complete. It’s badly needed: As things now stand, parts of the existing sewer system are too small for the load they’re required to handle, and sewage can overflow onto city streets.

Too, parts of the city are still unsewered. In some neighborhoods, for example, houses were so far apart that when work to expand the city’s original system — built in 1913 — began in 1978, those neighborhoods were bypassed.

All that could have added up to the sort of public brouhaha that surrounded the Bridge Creek project. It could have, that is, if city officials had not recognized as well as they did the early mistakes they made when considering water-system improvements.

Yes, they held all the requisite public hearings on the matter, but few members of the community were actively engaged in the early planning that went into it. The city had to struggle to make up for that later. That was not the case this time around.

More than two years ago, the city created the Bend Sewer Infrastructure Advisory Group, made of local business people and others, to decide what improvements the sewer system needed and the best way to make them. The group met regularly and was supported by city staff and other experts, it took tours of facilities, and, in the end, all members agreed to the plan that was adopted Wednesday.

In fact, the process worked so well that several members of the advisory group have said they believe the city should consider a similar process when other major decisions must be made. No doubt city officials concur.

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