Ceremonial groundbreaking marks start of Powell Butte Reservoir 2 construction project

After first the hot weather – and then a neighborhood land-use challenge – stalled the project, it’s now proceeding. Find out when the digging, and the parade of 30,000 dump trucks through the Centennial Community Association neighborhood, will begin …

Portland Mayor Sam Adams, Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard, Portland Parks & Recreation director Zari Santner, and Portland Water Bureau director David Schaff, prepare to turn over the first shovels of soil – as the $137 million Powell Butte Reservoir 2 construction project officially gets under way.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The scorching, record-breaking end-of-July temperatures – and a land-use challenge by a neighborhood association – put off the start of the Powell Butte Reservoir 2 project.

It’s a story we’ve covered for some time, at East PDX News.

  • For our first look, see this story: CLICK HERE.
  • As for covering at the last public outreach meeting, see this article: CLICK HERE.
  • And, to get a dump-truck driver’s view, when they haul out tons of dirt, see this article, CLICK HERE.

Neighbors withdraw objections
Guests, city staff, and dignitaries welcomed a drink of cold Bull Run water, after they hiked up from the parking area at Powell Butte Nature Park, the entrance on SE 162nd Avenue at SE Powell Boulevard.

“Following the Pleasant Valley Neighborhood Association’s decision to withdraw further appeals of the land-use review, the actual digging should start in a couple of weeks,” reported the Portland Water Bureau (PWB) public outreach director, Tim Hall, on July 18 – as we chatted at the construction site, near the top of the scenic butte that overlooks Portland.

“Today, we’re holding a groundbreaking ceremony to commemorate the start of construction of the city’s second underground drinking water reservoir at Powell Butte Nature Park in Southeast Portland,” Hall exclaimed.

Centennial Community Association chair, Tom Lewis, says he’s hopeful the construction project’s disruption can be minimized.

30 dump truck loads per hour
The excavation involves digging out and removing hundreds of tons of soil from the reservoir’s five-acre site. Hall said the work will require an average 30 to 40 dump truck trips per hour, Monday through Friday, for about six months – under normal weather conditions.

In all, an estimated 100 truck trips per day, for a total of approximately 30,000 trips to and from Powell Butte during the excavation phase of the project.

“We’re concerned about the truck traffic, of course,” Tom Lewis, chair of the Centennial Community Association, told us before the ceremony began. “We need to keep an eye on what the City’s contractors are doing. But, it is in the best interest for the City as a whole, to have new water resources available.”

Portland Water Bureau Director David Schaff opens the groundbreaking ceremony.

Bureau director kicks off program
The ceremony was delayed, David Schaff, Portland Water Bureau’s director told the gathering, because they were dealing with a problem at the waterworks head. (We later learned a bureau worker drove a truck into one of the Bull Run reservoirs, in the foothills of Mt. Hood.)

“This is the start of a series of projects we will be doing over the next several years to comply with new federal drinking water regulations,” Schaff explained. “Powell Butte Reservoir 2 is the first step.  It’s also part of a long-term storage plan that we have had in the works for several decades. Eventually, long after I’m gone, there may be as many as four 50-million-gallon reservoirs, here at the top of Powell Butte.”

Schaff noted that while their Bureau is considered efficient, it isn’t very creative. “We called the first one Powell Butte Reservoir 1; this facility will be called Powell Butte Reservoir 2.”

Portland Mayor Sam Adams says new water storage facilities are needed, due to the uncertainties created by climate change.

Mayor concerned about climate change potentials
I’m pleased to be here to help participate, and to get started the official groundbreaking, for this project,” commented Portland Mayor Sam Adams as he addressed the group. “This project is important to help Portland comply with emerging federal regulations on drinking water.

“But it is also important locally, given the likely impacts of climate change. We will need extra capacity. We don’t know exactly how much we’ll need in the summers, or how odd winters will affect our water resources. This additional capacity should give Portlanders the feeling of security about our water supply – knowing that there is enough as we face climate change issues.”

Adams said that because of the “global recession” this project comes at a good time, because it will provide jobs in the area. “This project has been on the books, talked about, and wished about, for decades.  There’s no mistake that it’s coming to fruition due to the leadership of the current Water Commissioner, Randy Leonard.”

Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard lauds the staff of the Portland Water Bureau.

Commissioner praises “stimulus’ project implementation
When it was Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard’s turn at the microphone, he began, “Portland Water Bureau folks are professional, hard-working people that I would put on par with Portland Fire & Rescue. We need family-wage jobs; we also need another 50,000,000 gallon storage tank. I can articulate that need, but I can’t figure out how to get it done. It’s the outstanding staff of the Portland Water Bureau who figured out how to get it done, and in an extraordinary time frame.”

Leonard said he don’t know of another city project in the nation that implemented a “stimulus package” project faster or more skillfully than has the City of Portland.

“And, this project is for a good purpose. Every drop of water that any of us drink in the City of Portland is stored underneath us, in a 50,000,000 gallon tank. There will soon be a second 50,000,000 gallon tank. Doubling the [storage] capacity may not help us today – but will definitely help our children, our grandchildren, and our great grand grandchildren.”

After thanking Mayor Adams for his support of the Water Bureau and himself, Leonard introduced Portland Parks & Recreation director Zari Santner.

Zari Santner, Director of Portland Parks and Recreation, praises her bureau’s partnership with the Water Bureau.

Parks director stands in for Commissioner Fish
“We certainly got hot weather – I wish we’d hold these groundbreaking ceremonies in the winter when it’s cooler,” joked Portland Parks & Recreation director Zari Santner. “I’m here on behalf of Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, who had commitments that prevented him from attending.”

In addition to its being a site for water storage and distribution, Santner noted, Powell Butte is a “much loved” nature park. “Both the Water Bureau and Portland Parks share the responsibility managing the natural and public facilities and features in this park. This collaboration started almost 25 years ago, when we established a vision for public use of Powell Butte.”

In addition to the underground reservoir of facilities, Santner said, when the project is finished, there will be major enhancements to existing facilities. “This is something that the community wanted, and the Parks Bureau appreciates.  I’m looking forward to the day when all the stuff is done, and we can come together here and celebrate all those improvements, as well as water storage.”

Water Bureau Chief Engineer Michael Stuhr, PE, gives a brief history of Powell Butte’s use for water storage.

Spells out advantages of adding another reservoir
Michael Stuhr, chief engineer at Portland Water Bureau, got a cheer from the crowd when he said he wasn’t – due to the intense heat – going through the long presentation he’d prepared.

“This place is purchased in 1925,” Stuhr began. “Someone saw the need for additional reservoir capacity, and latched on to Powell Butte. Because of the reservoir here, we have additional capacity, and still have an elegantly engineered system; it runs mostly on gravity.”

Adding a second reservoir, Stuhr noted, will allow the Bureau to empty the original reservoir for cleaning and seismic upgrades from time to time. “The second thing is, it will provide flexibility in capacity, so we can deal with the other reservoirs and their issues.”

“Ready, set, DIG!” Adams, Leonard, Santner, and Schaff turn the soil, before heading to the shelter of canopies to escape the blazing sun.

With speeches made, and ground broken, guests are invited to enjoy slices of cakes, served by Susan Kelly and Yvonne Brittner.

Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard makes the first cut in the celebratory cake.

Digging to start in two weeks
Tim Hall said the actual excavation work should start in two weeks. “Workers will be putting in more erosion and water runoff controls before the digging starts.”

Due to the high volume of truck traffic, posing a safety risk to park users driving on the same road, so the park road from SE 162nd & Powell and main parking lot will be closed during construction hours, Hall revealed.

The second phase – pouring the concrete reservoir – is scheduled to start in summer of 2010. This work is scheduled for completion in the year 2013.

For more information, see the project’s Internet web site: CLICK HERE.

Zari Santner playfully poses with one of the cake’s decorations – she didn’t really eat her slice with a front loader!

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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