Umatilla Puts Water Basin Project on Hold

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The city of Umatilla put discussions of the Northeast Oregon Water Association (NOWA) option agreement on hold Tuesday night.

NOWA’s proposal to lease municipal water rights on the Columbia River appeared on the city’s agenda under unfinished business; however, the council voted to table the item and remove it from the agenda before any discussion took place.

NOWA is a nonprofit designed to develop “sustainable water and related natural resource based economic development in Eastern Oregon.” The group, founded and headed by former Umatilla City Manager J.R. Cook, is working with municipalities across Eastern Oregon on the project as a companion to a multi-million dollar state appropriate for water resource development in the Columbia Basin.

The NOWA agreement would lease municipal water rights from the city for five years at a cost of $10,000.

During the meeting, the council also met with representatives from Anderson Perry about the city’s proposed $4.6 million streetscape and downtown revitalization project.

The project will establish new sidewalks, curbs, lighting, and trees in the downtown area from Yerxa Street to the Umatilla River Bridge. Officials hope the project could make the downtown area more attractive to pedestrians and cyclists.

“It’s been a long time in the works. We’ll clean it up, dress it up,” said Andy Lindsey, Sixth Street project manager for Anderson Perry.

The project will also increase safety and pedestrian features – including lighting – on the city’s main street. At night, the lack of street lights puts pedestrians at risk when crossing streets, and on Nov. 4, a Clara Brownell Middle School student was hit by car. The architects said lighting was one of the main concerns and requests they heard from the public.

“The consistent message we heard at the open houses was, ‘It’s dark out there’” Lindsey said. “Safety is a component.”

For funding, the project will be broken into at least two phases. Phase one would install a new storm drainage system and remove the storm water discharge to the river. Phase two would install the streetscape components. Depending on funding, phase two could cover a few blocks or the entire length of the project.

Officials hope to start phase one in 2017 and phase two somewhere in the 2018-2020 time period.

“I appreciate the step forward,” Councilman David Lougee said. “It’s dark out there.”

In other business, the council:

• Heard a presentation from Joe Franell of Eastern Oregon Telecom updating the city on the company’s cable and broadband expansion into the city. Two years ago, EOT took over the old Almega Cable infrastructure left behind by the former company and set out to provide service to the city. Franell said the company is now available to more than 90 percent of residents in the city.
• Accepted Jaimie Olivera’s resignation from the city’s planning commission and appointed Ed Ortiz to the same board.
• Reminded attendees the city’s tree lighting ceremony will take place on Dec. 10. The Umatilla Chamber of Commerce will have a holiday open house from 3-6 p.m. the same day.