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Reservoir protest spreads message, tries to avoid trouble

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Members of Occupy Mount Tabor/Camp Cascadia movement plan to protest Friday, July 12, at Mt. Tabor Park to call attention to the city's plan to cover the reservoir there.Jessie Sponberg expects things to get a little tense Friday when a group of protesters gather in Mt. Tabor Park to highlight their fight against covering the city’s open reservoirs.

But Sponberg says people nearly 300 people expected to be involved in the Occupy Mount Tabor/Camp Cascadia movement don’t plan to work with Portland police until the protest’s objectives have been met.

“We are trying to hold the park until the police come and then hold the park until every news outlet is talking about us — until every Facebook post is talking about saving our water,” says Camp Cascadia/Occupy Mount Tabor spokesman Sponberg. “Then my job is done.”

Since 2006, the city has repeatedly sought to delay or avoid the federal Environmental Protection Agency's Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule, or LT2 mandate, but a federal court and the Oregon Health Authority have consistently rejected the appeals. The city decided in early June to comply with the federal rules, which includes disconnecting Mt. Tabor open-air reservoirs once new enclosed reservoirs at Powell Butte and Kelly Butte are completed. The deadline to disconnect the Mt. Tabor reservoirs is Dec. 31, 2015.

To protest that decision, Camp Cascadia/Occupy Mount Tabor plans to camp at Mount Tabor for three days beginning Friday, July 12. “We are going to take over that volcano,” says Sponberg.

Portland parks are open to the public from 5 a.m. to midnight, after that the group is breaking the law. That could lead to a confrontation with police.

“We are going to cross that bridge when the time comes,” Sponberg says. The group doesn’t have a plan for a confrontation, but organizers “don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

Portland police have asked to talk to the group about the protest, but Occupy Mount Tabor organizers have so far resisted.

“The main reason we don’t want to meet with police is because we haven’t broken the law,” says Sponberg. “So we see no reason.”

Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Peter Simpson says the group has been unresponsive to police overtures. “At this time I don’t know what our plans are,” says Simpson.

Mayor Charlie Hales says he hopes the protest will remain peaceful.

We welcome people who wish to assemble peacefully and exercise their first amendment rights,” Hales says. “We ask that demonstrators who come to Mount Tabor to express their views also respect the park and follow park rules, so that everyone can enjoy it safely.

“I want to be clear that the city’s primary responsibility must be to protect the safety of our drinking water. The water in Mount Tabor’s open reservoirs goes directly to half of Portland’s households, and we will take all necessary steps to keep it safe.”

Depending on police reaction, Sponberg says the group might leave every evening at 10 and return to the park every morning. He says the group is “not putting up a physical blockade.”

Simpson says police will continue trying to talk with the protest organizers to avoid trouble.

“With demonstrations, they are all unique,” Simpson says. “Permits, the crowd’s ability to cooperate and their size will factor in how we respond.”

“Portland Parks & Recreation and the members of the City Council support free speech activities,” says Portland Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz. “Those activities must be balanced with every Portlander’s right to access clean and safe parks in every neighborhood including Mt. Tabor.”

Camp Cascadia has invited Hales, Portland Water Bureau Commissioner Nick Fish and Oregon Health Authority Director Bruce Goldberg to discuss the possibility of a waiver of the federal reservoir cap requirement and the decisions being made about the reservoirs, but not one of the officials attended the meetings.

One of the Camp Cascadia/Occupy Mount Tabor goals is to push the city to seek a federal waiver of Environment Protection Agency rules on treatment of the Bull Run reservoir water.

“We fear people won’t be able to afford water,” Sponberg says.