Perspectives: Regional investments
Each week, Metro news reporter Nick Christensen poses a question to stakeholders to spark a community conversation. On Wednesdays, the question and stakeholder responses are posted to Metro news. Then, throughout the week, Nick adds readers' comments and responses to the post.
That's where you come in. What do you think the answer is? How do you agree or disagree with the responses so far? E-mail your response to this week's question to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include your name, the community you live in and your phone number so your response can be verified. This is a moderated conversation, and comments are expected to elevate the discussion.
This content does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Metro staff or elected officials.
This week's question
What investments in the next 20 years will yield the greatest return for the Portland region's present and future residents?
Executive director, Rose Community Development
The Portland region is a tale of two cities. One is the “Smart Growth Disneyland” of light rail, brew pubs, bikeways and sidewalk cafes that attracts attention in the New York Times and other national publications.
The other Portland – the one no one writes press releases about – exists squarely in the center of the metro region between 82nd Avenue and Rockwood.
Here you will look far and wide for the basic infrastructure that most neighborhoods take for granted. All of the major arterials lack continuous sidewalks. Children walk to overcrowded schools through mud puddles on unpaved streets. Some of our most-populated neighborhoods lack grocery stores and other basic services. Three pedestrians have been killed trying to cross Foster Road in the last six months. The Portland Tribune reported that seven of the city’s ten most dangerous intersections are on 82nd and 122nd avenues.
The Coalition for a Livable Future’s Regional Equity Atlas clearly documents the dislocation of low-income households and communities of color from inner Portland neighborhoods to East Portland. This diversity is unique in the region and can be a tremendous asset.
The region’s greatest returns will derive from investment in the social and economic capital in East Portland and West Gresham. The population of these neighborhoods is greater than that of Oregon’s second biggest city, Eugene. Community-based organizations are the glue that holds neighborhoods together, builds consensus and drives improvement agendas. Economic development efforts should focus on independent small businesses and rehab and reuse of existing buildings instead of urban renewal and chain development. If Metro is true to its equity agenda, it will direct essential infrastructure like sidewalks, streets, transit and parks to these neglected neighborhoods. Economic justice can be the next chapter in the Portland region’s urban success story.
Three things come to mind:
Regional infrastructure to support population growth: We especially need to invest in roads and bridges. Alternative transportation has its place, but it isn’t as useful to transport freight, sub-contractors to job sites, or people who prefer or need to use their cars. We are expecting more than a million people to move to our region, and mass transit will only solve part of the problem. Without good roads, we will turn into L.A. (which, due to poor planning and investment, has parts of Interstate 5 as narrow as four lanes going through the central interchange of the city, and is bottlenecked 12 hours a day). And trying to regulate traffic through tolling doesn’t work – I’ve seen that tried first-hand in other areas. If we don’t create better roads, people will simply sit longer on highways, clog up arterials, and add to the pollution by having longer commute and travel times or distances.
A convention center hotel to attract more convention/tourism dollars: This just has to happen. I’m a part of several national organizations that have considered Portland for their conferences and business meetings. They want to come here and the dollars that would flow into our region would provide a lot of jobs and a stronger economic base. But the lack of a true convention center hotel has kept them from coming time after time. I know the solution isn’t easy, but we’ve got to find a way. A rising tide lifts all boats – other hotels not connected or on the west side of the city would still benefit.
Ensuring enough shovel-ready large industrial sites are available to attract large-employer businesses to our region and creating a tax structure that attracts large businesses to come here: We have too much to offer to have only two Fortune 500 companies located in our state and to lose out on other opportunities due to too little availability for job site locations. We’re not competing with other areas in our state, or even Seattle or the rest of the country. We’re competing with the world, and we need to have a variety of attractive large site locations and a tax incentive structure that brings businesses and jobs to our state.
Executive director, Westside Economic Alliance
The obvious answer, of course, is water.
Oregon is blessed with an abundance of water. From the bountiful Pacific Ocean to the snow- capped Cascade mountain peaks, and the rivers and streams that interlace our state, Oregonians are surrounded by water. But with a growing population, and a concentrated urban lifestyle for 70 percent of our residents, this most precious natural resource is not always distributed to the right places, in the right amounts, and at the right times to sustain the high quality of life we have grown to expect here.
Nearly half of Oregon’s 3.8 million residents live and work in the three counties surrounding our largest city, Portland, which has drawn most of its drinking water from the pristine Bull Run reservoirs on the flanks of Mt. Hood. But more than 40 years ago, communities in the Tualatin River basin, on the west side of the Portland region, faced a growing demand for water to supply agricultural irrigation, food processing and municipal uses. Community leaders in Washington County turned their attention west, to the rain-drenched Coast Range, for new sources of water.
Scoggins Dam was completed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 1975, impounding a major tributary to the Tualatin River in a secluded valley 5 miles south of Forest Grove. The 1100-acre reservoir created by the project, Henry Hagg Lake, has served a variety of benefits to growing communities downstream by supplying abundant drinking water, flood protection, critical habitat improvements for fish and wildlife species, and the most popular recreation playground in Washington County.
But since the impounding of Hagg Lake in 1975, the population of Washington County has tripled, while the employment base in the county has quadrupled. More than 538,000 people now live and work in Washington County, which has become home to our state’s largest employer (Intel); the largest Fortune 500 company domiciled in Oregon (Nike, No. 153); the largest solar manufacturing facility in the western hemisphere (SolarWorld), and one of seven Oregonians. All of these consumers work up quite a thirst for water.
According to Tualatin Valley Water District, the state’s second largest water bureau serving more than half of the homes and businesses in Washington County, customers require an average of 105 gallons of water per day. While conservation measures and efficiency improvements have reduced this flow considerably – from 130 gallons per day less than 10 years ago – the growing population will soon tap out available water sources. If decisive measures aren’t taken soon, some communities and businesses could face water shortages in the dry summer months, in less than 10 years.
To make sure this doesn’t happen, a coalition of cities and local water bureaus are promoting the Tualatin Basin Water Supply Project to provide a basin-wide, integrated water resource management project that will diversify the region’s water supply; help ensure we are able to respond to anticipated climate change; and meet the 50-year water supply needs for municipal, industrial and economic development; irrigated agriculture, while improving water quality and critical wildlife habitat in the Tualatin River and its tributaries.
After more than eight years of study, the partners (including Clean Water Services, Tualatin Valley Water District, and the Cities of Beaverton, Hillsboro and Forest Grove) have agreed their best regional solution is to increase the capacity at Hagg Lake to meet the region’s needs through 2050.
Over the last five years, local government leaders have been working closely with Oregon’s Congressional delegation, House and Senate committee staff, and federal agencies to secure nearly $2 million in federal funding for the Tualatin Basin Water Supply Project and the title transfer assessment to transfer ownership of the project from the federal government to the local partnership.
For their part, these local partners have also invested $9.3 million of their funds by completing the 2009 Scoggins Dam Raise Appraisal Stud; the 2003 Water Supply Feasibility Study; and develop the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project.
The actual construction schedule and projected costs for the project have been delayed by the recent findings from the Bureau of Reclamation’s seismic analysis, which determined the existing Scoggins Dam would not meet current seismic standards during a major earthquake. The Bureau of Reclamation is now working to determine options for either repairing or replacing the dam. This study is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2011, and federal funding for the solution could further delay actual construction of a larger dam past 2020 when partners are experiencing shortages.
But until the federal studies and recommendations are complete, the local cities and water bureaus cannot make a regional decision until the costs of repairing or replacing Scoggins Dam are determined next year. The latest estimate from the federal Dam Raise Appraisal Study is about $1 billion for the dam raise, seismic improvements and other elements of the project. As the current owners and operators of the dam, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would be responsible for 85 percent of the cost of making seismic improvements.
Doing nothing is not an option – the dam must either be repaired or replaced. Westside community partners are currently studying interim strategies to insure adequate supplies, including sharing existing supplies; system efficiencies; conservation; aquifer storage and recovery, and re-use.
Fortunately, the Tualatin Valley Water Supply project enjoys strong and diverse support from the federal Bureau of Reclamation, our congressional delegation, our governor, state legislature, local communities and businesses, environmental and agricultural interests living and working in the basin.