Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Terri Harber


Baker City Councilors opted Tuesday against awarding a bid for installing an ultraviolet light system to deactivate microscopic parasites that might make their way into the city's water supply.

Some of the councilors continue to be apprehensive about investing in the system. The Council will hear more about the bids during their next meeting, scheduled for Dec. 11.

"I can't buy into this in any shape or form," Councilor Roger Coles said. "Who knows if the equipment is going to be obsolete?"

Coles also is concerned about the difference in price among the three bids, which varied from $448,000 to $1.2 million.

Total cost to construct and start operating the UV system is expected to run somewhere between $2.4 million and $3.8 million.

"The variance in price bothers me as well," Councilor Beverly Calder said.

Calder brought up the idea of installing a membrane filter instead.

That would cost an estimated $15 million.

A filtration plant would protect the water against parasites such as cryptosporidium as well as from other possible sources of contamination that a UV system would not.

Coles and Calder expressed concern about the UV technology. Both wondered whether it would be outdated before the city's treatment plant is constructed.

Councilor Clair Button disagreed with the decision to not take action.

"We have directed staff to go into the UV alternative," Button said. "It doesn't make sense to me to delay beyond the windows we have."

The city is required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to disinfect its mountain water no later than October 2016.

The city's current practice of adding chlorine to the water would no longer be adequate on its own to deactivate such water-borne parasites as cryptosporidium (crypto) and giardia.

The city is working closely with the state to reach this goal and has deadlines by which to accomplish various tasks. Monitoring by the state will go on until the system is installed and operating properly. The UV system has been approved as well.

These are reasons why "the uncertainties don't really come into play here," Button said.

Three out of 24 water samples taken as part of treatment project planning detected the presence of crypto in water that flows to the city.

Two 10-liter samples, one taken in April 2010 and one in October 2010, each contained a single crypto oocyst. One sample taken in January 2011 contained two oocysts.

An oocyst is the shell that makes this parasite resistant to chlorine.

There have been no confirmed cases of people being infected by crypto through city water.

"Just because some government agency said you have to do this ... it's too much to spend on something, even though we might not have a problem," Mayor Dennis Dorrah said.

Some animals harbor a crypto parasite that's more harmful to humans than similar samples from other animals. The testing required by the federal government doesn't identify the origin of oocysts, for example, he said.

The EPA could change its standard - perhaps even before the 2016 deadline. That would cause the city to waste money on a water treatment it doesn't need, Dorrah said.

"I'd rather pay a fine for a couple of years," he said after explaining that he'd prefer to move slowly on the project in case any regulations change during the interim.

Michelle Owen, the city's public works director, offered to bring back more information about the bidders and their plans.

A short delay would be OK but a long wait might cause problems, including the loss of the current low bid offer of $448,000 from Wedeco - a U.S. subsidiary of a water solutions company in Germany, Owen said. This is the bid recommended by city staff and the engineering firm working with the city, HDR Inc.

Councilor Aletha Bonebrake wondered whether new regulations made the filtration system an easier effort.

It would be a best-case solution to clean up the water should a catastrophic fire burn through the watershed.

The city has been working with the U.S. Forest Service to lower the risk of such an event. That requires reducing the amount of vegetation that could burn there, Owen said.

There are two other UV project bidders: Trojan Technologies quoted a price of nearly $1.235 million and Aquionics Inc., of Erlander, Ken., sought more than $815,000.

Help with spoiled, unused real properties

The councilors also heard about a Northeast Oregon Economic Development District program that helps clean up real estate tainted by hazardous or toxic substances.

The goal of the brownfield program is to assist financially with assessments, testing and planning cleanups. The district aims to make these properties viable for reuse using this EPA grant money.

It seeks potential projects in Baker, Union and Wallowa counties. Call Lisa Dawson, executive director of the district, at 541-426-3598 for details.

In other business, the councilors:

andbull; Accepted the election proclamation made by Becky Fitzpatrick, city recorder. She issued certificates to the four top vote-getters in the City Council race. It was held Nov. 6 as part of the general election. The winners were Kimberley Mosier, Richard Langrell, Michael Downing and Barbara Johnson.

andbull;Approved final reading of the updated transient merchants ordinance 3316.

andbull; Voted against offering a reduced rental rate to a potential hangar tenant at the Baker Municipal Airport. The councilors could consider lowering the rate, however, when they take up the city's annual fees resolution next year.