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The hundred-year itch

Now is the most recent time. Collectively we know the most things ever known, right now. With that knowledge, we should be able to begin building great things that will last longer than the streets of Rome. We are 2,000 years smarter than those ancient Romans, after all.

That almost sounds logical, and it almost sounds like the voice the Ashland City Public Works Department hears in their heads every day. Between the 100-year water treatment plant plan, the 100-year Ashland Canal plan, and the 100-year Ashland City Hall plan (if it were all new at the City Center like they had recommended) Ashland truly knows the future.

However, 1999 wasn’t 100 years ago, it was 20. And in 1999 people also thought they had everything figured out. So the Ashland City Council passed a resolution (1999-19) to establish a Local Improvement District to improve 500 feet of Waterline Road including pavement, gutters, storm drains, water lines, retaining walls, etc. Ashland in 1999 had a modern plan for modern improvement and modern development.

Turns out that things didn’t turn out. There were restrictive liens on property, development never developed, and potential costs increased.

So now, Public Works wants to terminate the 1999 resolution. The new resolution 2019-28 will repeal resolution 1999-19. No harm, no foul. Everyone gets their money back and it’s like this bad idea from 1999 never happened. And that is great. Super great.

But — you knew a big but was comin’ — if the tree cutters and bulldozers come in and start this Ashland Canal business, there is no turning back. Five years from now someone saying “oops” isn’t gonna cut it. We will have built a city truck access road where there was once a neighborhood trail.

And the “oops” moment isn’t going to make the papers. More than likely it will be that water quality isn’t really that much better. The amount of water used by the city will be about the same. Underground video monitoring costs will slowly increase. The income expected from locals paying to attach to the new pipe will never materialize.

And $4 million or more will have been spent to ruin a neighborhood asset that only the Ashland Public Works Department thought needed to be completely removed and replaced.

Look, the Roman Public Works Department was really great at doing lots of big things. And the Roman aqueduct was a big, great thing — until it wasn’t. Sometimes planning 100 years out isn’t always the best idea. So let’s slow down on the 100-year projects, and maybe just maintain the canal as it is. Because it’s hard to just call a “Mulligan” after you’ve cleared and built a new two-mile road.

Big things aren’t necessarily the right things.

Jim Falkenstein lives in Ashland.

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