By Stephen Anderson

EWEB’s plan for their 11-acre property south of 40th and Patterson, decades in the making, was to build one water reservoir in 2021 and one reservoir a decade or so later, if needed. In the first meeting with EWEB, we had one simple request: Change the reservoir sequence. Site 2 is easier to build on and does not require the clear-cutting of a heritage grove of trees older than Eugene itself. This choice would leave that important habitat for at least another decade.

EWEB intends to replace both College Hill’s and Hawkins Heights’ reservoirs as soon as one tank is completed at 40th and Patterson. The change of plan, which had almost no public input, means that south Eugene will experience heavy construction traffic for three-and-a-half years instead of two, and that the College Hill replacement will be postponed even though the Oregon Health Authority has mandated EWEB replace it by 2023. This new plan is terrible for our citizens as well as the wildlife that calls the EWEB forest home.

Neighborhood meetings started in March 2020
In March of 2020, just before the pandemic lockdown, we immediate neighbors of this “EWEB Legacy Project” (their words) were invited to a meeting at the Good Samaritan Rehab Center on Hilyard Street. There were about 35 people present. At that meeting, we were shown maps of the site, and told that EWEB was in a hurry to build one tank at this site, as they had a mandate from the Oregon Health Authority to replace the reservoir on College Hill by 2023, and the Hawkins Heights reservoir upon completion of a new reservoir on College Hill.

We immediately voiced objections to the proposed tank siting. On their map were drawn two circles, indicating Tank 1 and Tank 2. We were informed that Tank 1 would be built right away, Tank 2 would be built in a decade or so, after the other reservoirs were replaced, depending on the need at that time, and only required if Eugene’s water demand rose 3%. We simply asked them to reverse the tank order, as it looked as if an engineer had simply labelled them 1 & 2, an easy change to make. We were told that “nothing is decided at this time,” or words to that effect, so month after month we kept pushing this tank sequence change, because Site 1 would require removal of trees older than Eugene, a habitat that has developed on this hot rocky hilltop along with the oaks, which EWEB informed us was a savannah which needed protection. Never mind the heritage grove we want protected, which has grown up with these same oaks!

Not a word was spoken about how many heavy truck trips would be driving up and down Hilyard past Tugman Park, or how they would compensate us for this disruption to the neighborhood.

We immediately voiced objections to the proposed reservoir siting. On their map, two circles representing Tank 1 and Tank 2 were drawn We were informed that Tank 1 would be built right away and that Tank 2 would be built in a decade or so, after the other reservoirs were replaced, depending on the need at that time, and only required if Eugene’s water demand rose 3%. We simply asked them to reverse the tank order, as it looked as if an engineer had simply labelled them 1 & 2, an easy change to make. We were told that “nothing is decided at this time,” or words to that effect, so month after month we kept pushing this tank sequence change, because Site 1 would require removal of trees vital not only to wildlife, but to Eugene’s air quality.

In the last year, month after month at the online EWEB Board meeting (our only chance to talk to them in a public forum), we continued to fight for these trees and all they represent. When we were told that EWEB was paying for a “habitat assessment,” I was ready to help. It was already late summer 2020, and I realized they might miss some of the birds and animals that use this forest during other seasons. I sent them a list based on my own and my neighbors’ observations, of about 160 species, including pileated woodpeckers, that call the habitat home. At the December 2020 meeting, after we again voiced objection to the tank sequence, the general manager said, “Maybe we’ll just build both tanks now,” which was a shocking statement. Not only was this not part of their 10-year plan, nothing like this had been proposed in any of their deliberations.

Then began an EWEB media blitz, which ironically we all pay for, to justify this sudden change of plan. This change would require that citizens of South Eugene endure at least three and half years of the demolition of this hilltop and the loss of our trees, a plan that seemed ill-conceived and seemed to me to be done out of spite.

From EWEB’s website: “We believe it is important that we are active participants in our community. And protecting the environment is not only at the core of our mission — as it relates to delivering clean drinking water and renewable power — it is also at the heart of what we value. For us, caring about our community and protecting the environment go hand-in-hand….” Clearly EWEB’s plans for the water project at 40th and Patterson are an exception to this stated mission.

So here we sit in South Eugene, informed a year ago last March that EWEB would build one tank in 2021. The neighbors had a simple request: build the one tank on site two, and save the big grove of heritage trees as long as possible. The forest is important for carbon sequestration, habitat, cooling the neighborhood and keeping windstorms from affecting all the trees to the east below the hilltop. In fact, we stated that we would support their plan whole heartedly, but for that one sticking point: the tank sequence.

Imagine our dismay when EWEB’s publicly funded “assessment” didn’t find any reason to save the big trees. Could this be because they waited until October to do their survey, when most of the birds had already migrated? Not exactly what you would expect from a public utility that insists they are “caring about our community and protecting the environment” as per their mission statement.

All along the way, instead of working with us, EWEB has changed the justifications for not reversing the site plan, all of which are easily refuted if you allow other experts to weigh in. In fact, one of EWEB’s own contractors informed us that moving tank one to site two WOULD NOT PRECLUDE BLASTING FOR ANOTHER TANK A DECADE OR SO IN THE FUTURE….AS PER THEIR ORIGINAL PLAN. But that is not what EWEB is telling everyone. This is just one example of a flimsy justification for the change of plan. So now you have outraged citizens, ready to hold someone accountable for this debacle coming to South Eugene. Three and a half years of heavy construction, minimum, instead of two years!

Obviously we could not have public meetings during COVID, but there is no reason now, not to hold a public meeting and give us, the neighborhood constituents and other concerned citizens in Eugene, a chance to weigh in on this change of plan.

Right now, it appears EWEB believes if the community doesn’t know what the truth is and what’s in store for them, that’s just fine. We in South Eugene will suffer until 2025…we MUST NOT LET THIS HAPPEN TO OUR COMMUNITY!

We’ve never felt so mistreated by a public institution. The people of Eugene must stop this ill-considered change. We must ask the EWEB Commissioners to walk this land with us and hear the other side of the story.

Save EWEB Forest organized a tour to gather support for preservation of this beautiful urban forest.

Contact your EWEB commissioner and ask them to hold a public meeting and save this amazing grove and only suffer two years of traffic disruption, not three-and-half-years, on already crowded streets. You can also contact all the Eugene City Councilors and Mayor Vinis at once: mayorcouncilandcitymanager@eugene-or.gov