Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sewer system financing in Portland . . .

. . . is something I need to learn more about. I covered this topic in my thesis to some degree, but definitely need to do more research. Finances and economics are not my strong suit.

That being said, my general take on urban sanitation infrastructure is that it's well worth the expense because it establishes an essential foundation for the life and health of residents. However, unlike shiny new sports facilities, high-profile convention centers, and spruced-up former warehouse districts, such infrastructure is not as visible nor as sexy. So, for people who don't understand the direct relationship between this infrastructure and individual and community health, the necessary taxes to support this infrastructure often seems to be ill-spent. This is not to say that there are more or less productive ways to spend a dollar of tax money allocated for sanitation infrastructure (as with any other use of taxes), but to dismiss a given proposal out-of-hand simply because it's another tax or tax increase is incorrect.

I agree with the idea to spend some of Portland's sewer funds on Mayor Adams' proposed Green Streets project. Keeping stormwater runoff from both the combined sewer system* and from direct runoff into the Willamette watershed is a great long-term idea, as is increasing bike and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure in the city. To combine these two outcomes within one project is an effective and efficient use of limited resources. I don't quite understand the logic of knee-jerk anti-taxers and limited-governmenters who oppose this plan. Yes, we do need an informed public debate surrounding tax and spending policies.** However, once these taxes/fees are levied for infrastructure that benefits us all, I don't understand how the opposition can then rail against combining projects to achieve more with the same pile of money.

* Soon-to-be-mostly-uncombined.

** And there definitely is not much evidence of "informed public debate" in the comment threads to Oregonian articles on this topic -- see, for starters, the comments to the article spurring this post: Janie Har, "Portland sewer, water rates lack third-party check," Oregonian March 27, 2010.



  1. "debates over the proposed budgets of the Portland Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services were pretty heated." (see Janie Har, "More backflow from Portland City Council's $20 million sewer and bike decision," Oregonian March 30, 2010.)

  2. "Portland's drive to keep rain out of its storm sewers got a big plug from USA Today this week.

    The story focused on green roofs, rain gardens and curbside swales designed to intercept rain runoff before it enters the storm sewers.

    No mention of Mayor Sam Adams' controversial move to marry those improvements with bike routes."

    (see Scott Learn, "Portland gets storm sewer shoutout," Oregonian April 3, 2010.)

    USA Today article cited above: Dennis Cauchon, "Portland's sewers right as rain," April 3, 2010:

    "Eco-friendly tourists flock to the city to understand how Portland's innovative system of curbs, gutters, roofs and rain gardens sharply cuts water pollution."