Neighbors get first look at new Powell Butte Reservoir building project

Installing another 50 million gallon reservoir, neighbors learn, means there’ll be a whole lot of diggin’ going on up there in 2009. Find out how this massive project will affect park users, neighbors – and traffic – in outer East Portland …

The Portland Water Bureau’s principal engineer and project manager for building Powell Butte Reservoir II, Teresa Elliott, outlines the project for neighbors.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The City of Portland is about to begin a $133 million construction project – building the second 50 million gallon reservoir on Powell Butte.

Building this massive water vault wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan idea from Portland Water Bureau (PWB) Commissioner Randy Leonard; in fact, it was specifically identified as a project long ago in the city’s 1987 Public Facility Plan.

Site for storing water
“Powell Butte was purchased in 1925 solely as the site for City of Portland water storage reservoirs,” stated PWB spokesperson, Jennie Day-Burget. “The first reservoir was built in 1980. It was established as a park in 1987, and first opened for public use in 1990. Under an existing Land Use Review Plan for Powell Butte, the Water Bureau must begin building a second reservoir on the site by 2013.”

About 31 people who attended the “Stakeholder and Public Meeting” in the Harold Oliver Middle School auditorium in the Centennial neighborhood on November 20 learned that the City started the land use process in 2003, and drew up plans for the project in 2005.

In June, Commissioner Leonard presented the final resolution to move forward with the project, and it was adopted.

Slated for a springtime start
“We’re here to learn what your interests are, and what your concerns are, as we move forward with the reservoir,” PWB’s principal engineer and project manager, Teresa Elliott, told the group, as she stood in front of pictorial graphs and charts lining the front of the room.

“Why now?” Elliott asked rhetorically. “We need to start now, to make sure we’ll meet a timetable for having all of Portland’s reservoirs closed. And, we’re trying to get it done [in accordance with the] 2013 land use requirement.”

The project manager said they expect to begin excavating in May or June, and will begin construction by May of 2010.

“In addition to building the second reservoir, we’ll also provide park improvements, build a maintenance yard, and provide permanent drainage,” Elliott explained. Park improvements, she added, include a new parking lot, improved restroom facilities, and an amphitheater. “There will be trails relocated to accommodate construction.”

Portland Park & Recreation’s Kathleen Muran says to expect park closures until the project has been completed in 2011 or 2012.

Parks envoy outlines challenges
“[Powell Butte] Park access will be a challenge during the construction,” admitted Portland Park & Recreation’s Kathleen Muran. “There’ll be a lot of restrictions around the construction areas. We don’t know how it will impact specific trails – but some will be closed. Visitors won’t have quite as full an experience at some times, due to the construction.”

Muran said that public safety is the water bureau’s first priority. “We’re keeping that in mind, as they work through the project. And, protecting natural resources is near and dear to our hearts.”

Park access to be limited
The park now has nine access points. But, during construction, most of them will be closed, except for the main entrance at SE 162nd Avenue off SE Powell Boulevard., Muran stated.

“Due to the intensity of the work, we will close the SE 162nd Avenue entrance to vehicular traffic,” added Elliott. “We don’t think it is safe to have park users driving up and down the [park access] road with [dump] trucks going each direction every two-to-four minutes.”

Bikes and pedestrians on designated paths will be allowed. “The Goldfinch Trial will be closed, and the Holgate Trail that shares access road will be fenced off, but there will be a temporary trail built next to the road,” Elliott continued.

Water bureau chief David Shaff spoke up, saying that vehicle access may be reopened at the end of every construction day “Like after 5 p.m. and until 10 p.m., or the summertime park closing hours.”

Stan Vande Bergh, PWB’s principal engineer, talks with a neighbor about traffic and noise impacts on the neighborhood.

Says topsoil to be reclaimed
Their first step will be to strip off three to five feet of topsoil and stockpile it to cover the project when it is finished, explained PWB principal engineer Stan Vande Bergh. It will be re-vegetated with native plants.

“Then we’ll start digging the hole in earnest,” Vande Bergh continued. “We don’t want to be working in [wintertime] muck and mud; we’d like to do the excavation starting in early spring.”

Digging a hole this size means they’ll be moving a LOT of the material Vande Bergh referred to as “Springwater Formation” – primarily, soil cobbled with round river rock and clay.

30,000 trucks on SE Division Street
It will take about 30,000 truckloads to remove the excavated material, said Vande Bergh. “Powell Boulevard can’t take the volume. It will probably go to a quarry on SE Division Street, either the one at SE 108th Avenue, or the one in Gresham.”

Asked if thousands of fully-loaded trucks will impact the streets, Elliott responded, “PDOT tells us these roads are designed to handle the load. The drivers are required to secure the loads. We will have a ‘wheel washer’ before trucks come off the site.”

Lynn Barlow, PP&R’s Natural Area Supervisor, City Nature East, shows where a temporary parking lot might be set up and access to the park permitted.

Dedicated to resolving problems
Neighbors peppered the project’s representatives with questions about noise, dust, hours of construction, and other concerns. The city officials answered the questions as best they could, considering that the final construction contracts had not yet been let.

Bureau chief Shaff then assured the group, “We realize these projects disrupt lives. We put a lot of time, energy and effort to help minimize the disruption. Hopefully, as at our other projects, you’ll be able to get a good response, so you won’t feel the need to call Commissioner Leonard with complaints.”

Tim Hall, the PWB Public Outreach Coordinator for the project, added that the bureau will post notices on a project web site, and install kiosks at all access points with PWB and Park information.

“Our outreach staff is available on a 24-hour/7-day-a-week basis. And, we’ll make regular reports to the affected neighborhood associations – we’ll meet with anyone who will invite us,” Hall assured.

When we checked, the bureau’s website had not yet been updated, but CLICK HERE to see PWB’s “Construction and Repair Projects” page that will direct you once they “construct” their page.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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