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Bend councilors talk sewer costs, OK microtransit test


After hearing from numerous residents at two recent listening sessions, Bend city councilors began grappling Wednesday night with the challenges of a southeast Bend neighborhood that faces daunting sewer hook-up costs in coming years.

A southeast Bend neighborhood’s being asked to hook up to the Southeast Interceptor sewer line that was built recenlty in that area of town. Hooking up could cost homeowners up to $25,000 each, if a cap proposed by a citizen advisory council is accepted — and that’s just one of a myriad of issues to be addressed in coming weeks.

Councilors said they were very receptive to the concerns of those impacted by the project, and will look to accommodate them, while working to balance the need for these people to hook up to the sewer system.

One idea councilors urged was for staff to look into how flexible the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality might be willing to go, especially the timeline of when people will have to hook up to the sewer system, including the so-called “300-foot rule,” when septic systems fail.

Among the issues touched on: How much the rest of the city’s sewer ratepayers should share in the cost of the sewer extensions, how to fund the safety net for those on fixed incomes and whether the timeline can be extended, to give all some flexibility. Federal and state grants that funded the city’s first sewer system several decades ago are no longer available,

A staff-led review of funding options, what others have done and all the rest will be discussed at a series of upcoming council meetings, starting in two weeks.

Councilor Nathan Boddie — more involved in discussions than he has since his own political controversy erupted months ago — asked if the area could continue to work with functioning septic systems. But city Engineer Tom Hickmann said even beyond state DEQ requirements, on fairly small lots, down the road, you can’t just keep shifting septic drain fields forever.

“At some point that will stop working. You’ll run out of land,” Hickmann said. “That’s why these work better in rural settings.”

And that just means the same issues would come back, at even higher costs, in the future, if the proverbial can is kicked down the road — something current staff and councilors wish previous councils hadn’t done, at least if they had started to set aside funds 20 years ago, when the annexation occurred.

The city staff also plan to come back with “100 percent design” cost estimates for the sewer additions, so all involved have a better idea the size of the problem to be addressed.

Microtransit pilot project gets green light – and one no vote

Later, councilors agreed to help fund a microtransit pilot project that aims to add transportation alternatives to the city.

OSU-Cascades Transportation Manager Casey Burgh brought the project in front of city council to ask for additional funding, and the city council approved a budget of $50,000 to get the program up and running. City Manager Eric King said St. Charles is also putting $25,000 into the pilot project, being spearheaded by OSU-Cascades and its Bend Mobility Lab.

Burgh, who’s getting this microtransit project off the ground, said the mobility lab, which comes up with transportation alternatives at the college, is a way to create new transportation alternatives.

This microtransit program will be more like an “on-demand” small-scale service that provides another alternative that should be more cost-effective than regular buses.

“They only operate when there is a ride requested,” Burgh said. “So they are not circulating empty and by providing on on-demand service, it’s a high quality of service as well.”

This type of program has been tested in other cities across the nation as well, and has had its challenges. failed in the past. But Burgh said he believes that won’t be the case in Bend,as the community is in need of another form of transportation for undeserved areas.

The program will start on a small scale, only running on a northwest Bend route that Cascades East Transit recently eliminated. But if successful, it could expand to help serve a greater part of the community.

Councilor Bill Moseley noted that the new two-year budget for CET saw $150,000 in savings from elimination of Route 12, due to low ridership, so that more than covers the city’s cost for the pilot program offering a pooled on-demand service between OSU-Cascades and COCC.

Burgh noted the request for proposals will be wide-ranging and not just limited to ridesharing companies like Uber or Lyft, but ones that would provide their own vehicles.

Still, Councilor Barb Campbell was the lone no vote, after raising an issue of too little attention paid in the alternative to a prime bus-riding group: the disabled. Burgh said the partners in the project could require one or more vehicles have wheelchair lifts, but that wasn’t enough.

Councilor Sally Russell said a “massive shift in technology” is affecting transportation, and noted that new state funding from a recently approved payroll tax wcan “reshape how we move through Bend. … This is our moment to really take Bend into the future.”

Campbell was unimpressed. “I will say no to tax dollars for Uber. If Uber wants to do this, they’re a private company — they can figure it out.” And her vote wasn’t a “no,” but a “booo!”

Slim move-ahead on plastic bag ban — and Roats revelation

In other areas, councilors — on a bare 4-3 nod of heads — agreed to look at a basic “copy and paste” of another city’s ban on single-use plastic bags, as some citizen activists young and adult have urged in recent months.

And toward the close of the night’s business, Mayor Casey Roats — missing from some recent meetings — thanked his colleagues for carrying on without him, and made quite a revelation about his previously undisclosed health issues.

“I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for the last couple years, and I went to seek help with that,” said Roats, who recently declined to seek either a new term as the first directly-elected mayor in nearly a century, or one of this fall’s two open council seats.

“I was initially incredibly reluctant to go down there (to the treatment facility),” Roats said. “I had a lot of stigmas, bad connotations.”

“When I got down to the facility, where I stayed for nearly a month, I learned I was quite wrong about the things you do to get unstuck,” he said, urging family and friends of those in similar struggles to “help them find resources” that can help them.

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