In My View: The city is the cause of its own mistakes

In My View: The city is the cause of its own mistakes
By Charlie Ringo
The Bend Bulletin
January 25, 2014

The Bulletin’s editorial of Dec. 24 regarding the city’s Bridge Creek piping project, “$1.9 million does not disappear,” repeats the city of Bend’s assertion that “delays brought on in large part by LandWatch cost $1.9 million” and refers to “the cost that the city has accrued to fight those lawsuits.”

This editorial followed the article, “Water project delay cost $1.9M,” in which Bulletin reporter Hillary Borrud editorialized in the guise of reporting that additional work and delays were “caused” by lawsuits against the project.

The city’s and The Bulletin’s grasp of “cause and effect” is certainly unique.

According to them, if the city is found by a court to have done something wrong, the associated costs of that wrong are not “caused” by the city having done the wrong. Instead, they reason that the cause of the costs must be the party who took the city to court.

Under this logic, anyone successfully suing the city in court is the “cause” of any loss. For example, the Juniper Utility’s lawsuit against the city for improper condemnation “caused” the city to lose $12 million in damages, interest and fees.

What The Bulletin conveniently omits in its thinking is that a court ruled in favor of LandWatch’s 2012 lawsuit, just as a court ruled in favor of Juniper Utility. The “cause” of any loss of city money or the “cause” of delay was the city improperly doing something, not the lawsuits which were upheld in court.

The city in 2012 sought and the Forest Service agreed to the city installing a new water system and taking significantly more water from Tumalo Creek.

The federal district court judge ruled that the proposed project would result in “diminished water quality,” would violate water quality standards and would “permanently impact sensitive riparian ecosystems.” She further ruled that the Forest Service failed to adequately disclose and analyze streamflow data and other information. The fault was clearly with the city and Forest Service, not LandWatch.

Because the city and Forest Service made improper decisions in 2012, they decided that they had to reduce how much water could be taken from Tumalo Creek.

Accordingly, they had to do other new analyses and spent over one year to come up with a new proposal. That is their fault, not LandWatch’s.

The city’s overreaching and the Forest Service’s disregard of environmental laws were the “cause” of any delay and costs.

While it is to be expected that bureaucracies will try to shift responsibility to others when they make wrong decisions, it is surprising that The Bulletin would endorse such a lack of accountability.

The Bulletin’s editorial also sets up the false premise that the city should run all its decisions by LandWatch. That is a ridiculous characterization of what LandWatch has actually said.

The simple point is that the city should follow the law and not spend substantial sums of money on projects before it gets the necessary approvals.

That’s just good stewardship of public money.

In November, the Forest Service approved the new city project proposal. LandWatch has asked the court to stop work on the project until the judge resolves the case. Again, the objective is simply to stop the city from wasting more public money in case it doesn’t acquire final permits.

It is LandWatch’s desire, as well as the desire of city ratepayers, that less expensive water systems be utilized, which will save millions of dollars, as well as Tumalo Creek water.

— Charlie Ringo lives in Bend, is an attorney and a board member of Central Oregon LandWatch.