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Piping project postponed

Ashland Mayor John Stromberg cast the deciding no vote Tuesday night for a split City Council, stopping a plan to pipe the 2-mile Ashland stretch of the Talent Irrigation District canal.

After a whirlwind of rumors, threats and a slew of ideas from residents speaking at a public forum, he said there was too much conflicting information.

Councilor Steve Jensen moved to approve alternative one as recommended by city staff to pipe the entire canal for just under $3.5 million. Councilors Rich Rosenthal, Tonya Graham and Jensen voted yes, while Councilor Stefani Seffinger voted no, and councilors Julie Akins and Dennis Slattery said they didn’t want to vote for any of the available options.

The other two options include piping all open canal sections and lining the existing piped sections or replacing open sections of canal with new concrete channel and urethane underline and lining the existing piped sections, which both would cost about $4.3 million.

Public Works Director Paula Brown said the council did not decide on when it would like to bring the proposal back to the table, but doing nothing is not an option. Staff will most likely bring back option three to the council in the spring. Brown said it appears that the majority of council members want to keep the canal open.

She also said that all of the cost estimates are for a 60-year cycle. For option three the piping project would cost $2.5 million, and the remainder of the cost would come from ongoing maintenance estimated at roughly $39,000 annually.

Brown and city staff, including engineers and water conservationist specialists, said the canal loses about 62 million gallons of water per irrigation season through seepage and evaporation.

City staff argued for the past year that piping the canal would help protect the supplemental drinking water from E. coli and that the deteriorating canal badly needs repair. The project was originally approved in 2012 as part of the Water Master Plan, and contracting estimates began about two years ago.

Many residents have opposed the project from the beginning. About a dozen people spoke at Tuesday’s public forum, including homeowners who live along the ditch who are afraid that the construction will damage their properties and devalue their homes.

Neither city staff nor residents were happy about roughly 100 trees that may need to come out as part of the project.

Seffinger said she couldn’t vote for the piping because she knows that Ashland residents care about the trees and animals that would be disturbed.

Asa Cates was not at the Tuesday meeting but sat on the advisory board for the piping project as the Tree Commission representative. He said a lot of the trees would die from the construction and that the biggest impact would be the secondary die-off of trees below the canal that are accustomed to receiving water from the seepage.

He said tree roots would just grow right through the proposed rubber gaskets of the pipe.

He said current and former tree commissioners on the advisory board were against the piping, but if it happens, he said he wants it done right. He said homeowners should water the trees below the pipeline for at least a couple of years to keep them alive until they acclimate.

Brown assured the council that staff would take steps to remove as few trees as possible and plan to meet with every homeowner whose property would be affected if the project is approved.

A couple of residents stated that Brown had a personal agenda with the project, and one resident stated that she heard a rumor that Brown threatened to resign if the project didn’t move forward.

That resident, Max Lowen, even threatened to sue individual councilors for damages caused by the project if it moves forward. She said an organized group of residents put together several questions for staff that were not answered adequately.

“There are some community members who have made this unfairly personal,” Brown said. “This is a battle of wills between me as your public works director and community members who enjoy the canal. This is nothing personal. This is about water.”

Few residents spoke in favor of piping. One who did was Lesley Adams, who founded the nonprofit clean water advocacy organization Rogue Riverkeeper and implemented a 2011 E. coli study on Ashland Creek.

She said piping the canal will improve water quality and health because an open canal collects not just animal feces, but storm drainage, which puts runoff water carrying fertilizers and chemicals into the water.

The majority of residents who spoke against the piping seemed to agree that some repair is needed and continuously suggested the use of shotcrete.

Shotcrete is a type of cement that is sprayed and used for reinforcement.

Brown said she is not in favor of shotcrete, because she’s afraid that covering a broken foundation with a layer is not a longterm fix because it will need to be replaced decades before the life cycle of other options being considered.

Slattery said he doesn’t have an issue spending money or disappointing a room full of people with his decision, but he said the people this project will impact need to be considered and that the council needs more options.

For more information about the project, see Ashland.or.us/ashlandcanal.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings The path along the TID canal dead ends near Bill Shanor’s home.
Pedestrian walks along Park St, where it crosses the Ashland Creek Irrigation Canal on Friday. PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR.