Groups say water supply could ensure independence
The News Guard
In an effort to resist annexation by Lincoln City, groups in Roads End are looking at drilling six wells in the area to create an independent water system.
Although the elected Roads End Water District (REWD) is spearheading the plan, supporters of the project are urging property owners to make donations to a private company run by one of the District’s directors.
One fundraising email, sent on Aug. 24 from the local nonprofit Roads End Improvement Association (REIA), asks residents to donate to the Keizer-based Roadsend Group, LLC, to fund “Engineering, Geologic, as well as legal” projects to fight annexation.
On Sept. 10, Roadsend Group founder Chuck Jacobsen sent a fundraising email that contained a statement from REWD President Maud Krom announcing the well plan.
Krom’s message did not include any request for donations, but Jacobsen’s portion of the email, which also referred to legal efforts to oppose annexation, asked for donations to the LLC.
Jacobsen, who owns a home in Roads End and sits on the REWD board of directors, suggested property owners consider donating half the amount by which their tax bill would increase if the area is annexed.
“If we do nothing,” he wrote, “it will cost you even more if Lincoln City forces us to pay them.”
According to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Corporation Division, Jacobsen set up the Roadsend Group, LLC, in March 2011 and remains the sole individual associated with the company.
Unlike the Water District, which must make decisions in public meetings and maintain transparent financial records, the LLC’s finances are not open to the public.
Asked why he and the REIA are directing donations toward the LLC, rather than the District, Jacobsen said his group is not involved in the well project.
When asked to explain the content of the two fundraising emails, Jacobsen said: “I think there’s a misnomer there,” before saying he had another call waiting and hanging up.
The News Guard emailed questions to Jacobsen seeking clarification but did not receive a response.
In her portion of the Sept. 10 email, Krom said the REWD board of directors has “completed an extensive study into costs, system feasibility and logistics” and found that the well plan is practical.
“Well, basically we think it’s the best that suits our needs,” she said in an Oct. 4 interview. “Also, it would relieve Lincoln City of their problems of not having enough water. They talk about that all the time.”
On its well application to the Water Resources Department, the REWD said it plans to seek permission to use the City-owned water mains in Roads End to distribute the water but, failing that, would construct its own mains.
Asked whether the District had estimated the cost of constructing an alternate water distribution system, Krom said: “I don’t know yet what might be done on that.”
Krom also declined to say whether the district had looked into the cost of a reservoir to provide sufficient water pressure for fire protection.
“I’m really of very little help to you right now,” she said.
Asked how the District, which has no tax base and no budget, plans to pay for the well plan, Krom joked that she would pay for it out of her own checking account before saying that the project’s financing is yet to be determined.
Doug Kerr, fire marshal with North Lincoln Fire & Rescue District #1, said no one has approached him with questions about how a new Roads End water system could provide fire flow.
“I haven’t heard a word,” he said, adding: “I don’t know how they could go there without having some kind of reservoir of some type.”
Three years ago, Lincoln City’s new 4.25-million-gallon reservoir tank cost roughly $4.5 million, while a much smaller, half-million-gallon tank in Kernville is expected to cost authorities there $360,000.
City Manager David Hawker said that while the City would listen to any proposal from Roads End for use of its water mains, he believes the City would have to retain control of any such operation.
“If they have a source that they want to supply to us, we would sure look at it,” he said, “but I doubt very much we would let some other entity share our mains.”
City records show Roads End is home to roughly 4,300 feet of water mains.
Hawker said laying a parallel system capable of providing fire flow would be “extremely expensive,” adding that any such system would also require backup emergency power.
Tim Wallin, water rights program manager with the Water Resources Department, said the REWD well application, submitted on Aug. 23, will likely receive an initial review by mid-November, triggering a 30-day comment period.
He said water in the coastal dune aquifer can range from “quite fresh” to water that is “in delicate balance” with seawater.
“That’s something that our hydrologist would weigh in deciding whether it’s a use that can be appropriated,” he said.
If the Water Resources Department grants permission for the wells and the District decides to proceed, any new water system would require approval by the state’s Drinking Water Program (DWP).
Dave Leland, program manager, said his department determines whether groundwater needs to be treated by analyzing samples from the wells, adding that more than half the groundwater systems in the state require no water treatment at all.
He said well water can require treatment to remove pathogens as well as contaminants such as nitrate and arsenic.
Leland said wells near the coast can also produce water with a high salt content, often due to ancient sea beds rather than seawater infiltration.
“We don’t have a standard for that,” he said, “but people’s taste buds definitely have a standard for that.”
If the DWP approves the water system, Leland said, the REWD would be subject to all the obligations of a public water supplier, including regular testing and retaining a certified water system operator.
During the course of researching this article, The News Guard received an offer, in a Sept. 22 email from Roads End Water District (REWD) board member Chris Jalowy, to interview several supporters of the Roads End well plan.
Jalowy, who is also president of the Roads End Improvement Association, said some of the prospective interviewees felt previous media coverage of the annexation issue had failed to tell their side of the story and asked if the group could review a draft of the article before it went to press.
On Sept. 22, The News Guard agreed, pledging to consider any comments for a final draft.
On Sept. 28, Jalowy pulled out of the interview, saying that, while the group appreciated the newspaper’s flexibility, they wanted to focus all their efforts on the well plan.
“We feel that this needs to be the priority,” he said “and it is where the vast majority of the community wants us to spend our time [versus] getting into a war of words with the city.”
The News Guard reached out again after its phone interview with REWD President Maud Krom, putting several questions, along with a public records request for documents relating to the well plan, in writing on Oct. 4 and setting a response deadline of Oct. 17.
In an Oct. 6 response, Jalowy said the REWD and REIA boards of directors would consider the questions at their next scheduled meetings on Nov. 2.
He said the boards wanted to ensure that each member was able to contribute to each answer.
The News Guard replied that it could not hold the article for another month and that any responses received after the Oct. 17 deadline would be considered for a follow-up article.
The annexation battle
In a previous interview, Jacobsen said he formed the Roadsend Group, LLC, to oppose Lincoln City’s efforts to annex Roads End by threatening to shut off residents’ water.
Since 2004, the City has required property owners to sign a consent to annexation whenever a property changes hands – with those who refuse facing water shutoff.
The City adopted the required-consent policy after its 25-year contract to provide water to Roads End expired in 2003.
In order to annex the area, state law requires the City obtain consents from a triple majority – meaning a majority of property owners representing a majority of both total property value and total land area.
In 2010, the city council approved a yet-to-be-implemented policy that would speed up the process, requiring all property owners to sign consents in order to carry on receiving water.
The City has said it is on the cusp of achieving the triple majority, but Jacobsen has indicated that a legal challenge is in the cards.
“Roadsend Group is actively opposing Lincoln City’s hostile annexation scheme, ” he wrote in a previous fundraising email. “More than 70 Roads End property owners have put Lincoln City on notice that their “consent” to annexation was forced.”
While the City’s 2004 ordinance has been upheld by the federal courts, its more forceful 2010 ordinance has yet to be tested.
If the area is annexed, property owners would see their water and sewer rates cut in half to match those of existing city residents but would see their property taxes increase.
Once all the costs and savings are totaled, a median oceanfront property would see an additional annual burden of about $1,651 while a non-oceanfront home would see an increase of about $824.
The City says benefits of annexation would include street maintenance, police protection and locally tailored zoning.