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My view of the Oak Lodge Water District

As a ratepayer of the Oak Lodge Water District for over 20 years, I want to first thank OLWD Commissioner Myron Martwick for his statements in the May 8 publication of the Review. Finally, someone over at OLWD is willing to step forward and engage with the community.

It appears that the Board is suddenly feeling like they are misunderstood. Well, maybe they should have spent more of their annual community outreach budget (line item Public Information) instead of sitting on it for so many years. It is unfortunate that it has taken someone running against a 19-year incumbent for some meaningful communication to the public.

Nevertheless, Commissioner Martwick presented several issues that bear further discussion, and which points out why the current and long-serving Board of Commissioners of OLWD needs to be shaken out of its complacency. Somehow this organization, while well meaning, has gotten offtrack and lost touch with the majority of the rest of community.

The water district made serious errors on my family’s water bill, two billing cycles in a row. After contacting the board, I was told that there was nothing to worry about; as these items were out of the control of staff and that I had merely experienced “a perfect storm of events.” I am a researcher and work for the School of Business, so this made me curious. I have been attending the OLWD Board meetings, reading a lot of documents, and trying to figure out why that happened to me and others. The results have been less than what this community deserves. I attended the OLWD Budget meeting as one of two members of the public present to ask for clarification on a number of items in their proposed budget that contains another 4 percent increase. I was allowed three minutes by Chairman Dick Jones to ask questions and allowed two more minutes when the other member of the public gave me their time allotment.

Just prior to the meeting, the public who were present were told that there were errors in the fund summary page. I found another error while sitting waiting for the meeting to begin that I brought to their general manager’s attention. One of my questions was where the pipe upgrades line item was represented in the budget. I was told there would be no pipe upgrades due to the seismic upgrade for the next couple of years.

I would like to see a more professional organization, with more transparency in the budget process and some long-term strategic planning. There has been no planning process to determine what the community expects during the various natural disaster scenarios that the state of Oregon has already been considering. Other communities in Oregon already have plans created by partnerships of the fire, sanitary and water districts all working together. Where is this community’s natural disaster plan?

We are going to have that earthquake someday, they have engineering plans for the View Acres Reservoirs that claim that it will withstand a 9.0 quake, but the Commissioners do not know of any contractor who has actually built the proposed design. Does anyone really think that upgrading our systems to withstand a 9.0 seismic event is actually possible, with any amount of money?

Providing for the immediate personal filtration and purification needs for the entire community is probably a more cost effective investment than pouring a lot of concrete up on top of the hill, but nobody asked the community what they wanted. Some of the minor changes that are proposed to the reservoir tanks are reasonable, such as the new intake system and out-take valves. But a 1.4 million gallon reservoir will only provide 47 gallons of water to each of the 30,000 residents of the District. Even with four reservoirs the water will not last long. Obviously, personal purification systems are going to be much more important than a few milk jugs of water that one will have to wait in a very long line to receive.

The attitude of this comment by Commissioner Martwick is typical of the atmosphere at OLWD Board meetings: “...but the reality of $8.65 increase puts the issue into proper perspective. This equates to a six-pack and a bag of chips.” Apparently the commissioner has been weathering the Great Recession in much better financial condition than the majority of the water district’s population, which has many who are low and fixed income, many of them seniors, veterans, and small children. He may be able to easily afford a six-pack and a bag of chips, but to many families in our water district that is the food budget for the entire day.

It is time for a fresh perspective on the Oak Lodge Water District Board of Commissioners. I will bring valuable business skills including collaboration, research and community outreach that are needed by our community.

Nancy Gibson is a resident of Jennings Lodge running for a seat on the OLWD Board.




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