City still needs answers

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board August 14, 2013 09:57 am

That there are more questions about Baker City’s crypto outbreak than answers is frustrating, to residents and city officials alike.

This is, unfortunately, the nature of the microscopic parasite.

It is difficult, and perhaps will prove impossible, to ever trace this outbreak, which has sickened several hundred people, to its source.

Yet there are other vital questions for which answers should be more readily available.

First, city councilors need to know, from state and federal officials, that installing an ultraviolet light disinfection system, as city officials have been planning to do, will indeed satisfy state and federal standards.

Bill Goss, who works for the state’s Drinking Water Services program, said during the City Council’s special meeting on Thursday that the crypto outbreak possibly could change the playing field, as it were, for the city.

City councilors need to know, with confidence, whether UV treatment is good enough to satisfy regulators. Councilors can’t properly evaluate what’s right for their constituents if there’s even the slightest chance that the rules will change while, or soon after, the city is spending a couple million bucks.

Second, the governor’s office needs to respond to the city’s emergency declaration request.

Finally, councilors need to have some idea about how various treatment options, including a filtration plant, would affect residents’ water/sewer bills.

(The city bills residents every other month, and the single bill includes both water and sewer costs.)

These estimates will be necessarily imprecise, since construction costs and interest rates change. But it’s difficult for the residents who would foot the bill to express their opinions to the elected officials if they don’t have any idea of what that bill will amount to.

Jeanie Dexter, the city’s finance director, is preparing some numbers. One bit of good news from Dexter is that the city, which has been planning for a few years to install a UV treatment system, can pay for that without a special water rate increase. That scenario could change, though, if the city chooses to accelerate the construction schedule.