By Terri Harber
Several residents spoke to Baker City Councilors on Tuesday about ongoing efforts to control cryptosporidium that entered the municipal water supply in July and sickened hundreds of residents.
"Citizens want answers," resident Mike Borisoff said.
"All I see is the city manager and most of the council trying to cover things up and not provide accountability," he said.
Borisoff thinks a city employee should have been watching the livestock fence near Elk Creek, where a water sample collected on Aug. 4 contained 913 crypto oocysts.
No other sample tested has contained more than three oocysts.
City officials have acknowledged that cattle entered the watershed in the Elk Creek area during August.
City officials have acknowledged that cattle entered the watershed near Elk Creek in August.
The city has not used Elk Creek water since Aug. 7, the day it received test results from the Aug. 4 water sample.
Borisoff also said that he doesn't believe Public Works Director Michelle Owen is qualified for her job, and that City Manager Mike Kee seemed to be a nice guy.
But his "job title is city manager, not nice guy," Borisoff said.
"I think people have been looking for a little bit of a scapegoat," said Marvin Sundean of Baker City.
Around City Hall it's "here we go again," he said of the "stone throwing" and the portions of harsh emails from some councilors about the crypto outbreak published last week in the Herald.
"We've seen enough of this," Sundean said. "Just keep doing things you need to do."
Former Councilor Milo Pope spoke as well.
He told councilors that Owen reported to them in December 2009 that the Environmental Protection Agency had "required the city to install a second form of disinfection to inactivate the protozoan cryptosporidium by not later than 2014."
And "Mr. Kee also conveyed to them the importance of a UV system to protect against cryptosporidium," Pope said.
Owen and Kee repeated that recommendation "several times with no definitive action from the council as then constituted," Pope said.
"We are fortunate to have them," he said of Kee and Owen. "They are excellent public servants."
Kee told councilors that city staff has met with Bowen Valley rancher Don Foster, who holds the Forest Service grazing permit for the allotment next to Elk Creek, about repairing the fence.
The city is also looking for help from the Forest Service to donate fence materials.
The goal will be providing a higher level of protection to the creek. The city seeks to fence around the entire watershed, separate the allotment area from the watershed and, as a final measure, fence off the area where Elk Creek water is diverted into the city's pipeline.
That latter fence was approved previously by the public works advisory committee and the councilors, Kee said.
Foster told the city he believes someone left a gate open, allowing his cattle to enter the part of the allotment adjacent to the watershed earlier than they were supposed to.
The city might also contract with someone to police the Elk Creek area, Kee said.
As for the city's search for other water sources, a contractor soon will be working on the well at Quail Ridge Golf Course.
Councilor Dennis Dorrah asked staff for a detailed report on the city's recent water usage and possible water volumes available from other wells.
Owen said some figures were supplied during the last council meeting but that some figures aren't available because the city is negotiating for additional groundwater use rights.
And it's unknown how reliable the golf course well will turn out to be, Kee said.
Staff also is scheduled to meet with Business Oregon to secure financing for the ultraviolet light treatment facility and apply for a grant to update the Watershed Management Plan, Kee told the councilors.
Councilor Kim Mosier said she wants to see a printed version of water test results posted somewhere around the city for residents who don't own computers.
She also asked why it has been taking more than a week for the city to post test results on its website, www.bakercity.com.
The city is testing its water twice a week. If there are two consecutive positive tests for crypto the state will reinstitute the boil order that ended Aug. 21.
Owen told Mosier that the results are going up soon after the city receives them, but that the results aren't coming very fast.
Mosier explained that there are many who don't trust the quality of the city's water.
Letting the public know how any future problems will be addressed would help restore trust and "quell fears," Mosier said.
In other business, the councilors
andbull; Approved first and second readings of Ordinance No. 3324, which proposes renewal of the downtown Economic Improvement District. Without it being approved, the city won't be able to collect property tax assessments and business license fees from property and business owners in the area. The current ordinance expires at the end of this year. Some changes were made in the text, such as removing references to Historic Baker City Inc., because the nonprofit might be replaced as the contractor that receives most of the revenue from downtown businesses.
andbull; Heard that Billy Cunningham is giving up his contract to run Quail Ridge Golf Course. Coles suggested the facility be turned into a nonprofit similar to Baker County's Anthony Lakes Ski Area. Kee said city staff is preparing to start accepting requests for proposals to secure a new contractor or city-managed supervisor. Johnson suggested the city separate the management of the course from the food service and retailing operations. Dorrah suggested that the city look to Anthony Lakes employees for labor so these people have work year-round.
andbull; Decided to accept first reading of Ordinance No. 3325, which updates the city code about handgun possession in city parks by removing all references to regulating firearms now contained in the code. Mosier voted against the change because she would have preferred to prohibit all loaded firearms from parks.
andbull; The Clifford Street property given to the city by the late Anthony Silvers is being returned to his family. A plan to turn it into a day-use annex of adjacent Central Park caused ire among neighbors living on the street. Dorrah voted against the return of the property. He stated previously that any problems with the site could be overcome.
andbull; Councilors won't be allowed to attend and participate in meetings by Skype or other electronic means. Those who voted to prohibit electronic attendance were concerned it would promote not physically attending meetings and inhibit contact with constituents.
andbull; Heard from Greg Smith, the county's economic development director, about various endeavors. The department is pursuing a mid-size retailer for Baker City but also helping three restaurant owners sell their businesses. The department is trying to meet with business owners countywide and determine what they need. A workshop focusing on the Oregon health exchanges is in the works.
andbull; Authorized staff to spend funds for playground equipment and ground surfacing at Geiser-Pollman Park. The total amount raised from various sources is $161,000.