A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Canal fight getting out of hand

Written June 5th, 2015 by Hasso Hering
The Albany Santiam Canal on the left; Cheadle Lake on the right f the embankment and path.

The Albany Santiam Canal on the left; Cheadle Lake on the right of the embankment and path.

It hasn’t come to blows yet, but it may — I’m talking figuratively, I hope — in the fight between city officials of Albany and Lebanon over the Albany-Lebanon Canal. On Friday it looked as though the dispute would reach a boiling point at Cheadle Lake, the former log pond Lebanon has turned into a park-like waterway laced with trails.

Albany City Manager Wes Hare has tried for a year or more to get Lebanon to live up to a 1986 agreement that splits the costs of operating, maintaining and improving the canal, with Albany paying two-thirds and Lebanon one-third. Lebanon has offered to pay $77,000 a year, but Albany says annual costs of operating the canal are between $700,000 and $800,000, not counting any spending related to the Albany hydropower plant.

Most recently, Albany proposed a compromise: Lebanon’s annual payment would be capped at $125,000, with Lebanon making a one-time payment of $1.2 million toward capital costs over several years. Albany would forgo the $1.2 million if Lebanon agreed to spend that amount to reduce storm water running into the canal from within Lebanon and sometimes causing flooding downstream.

Hare has been expecting a Lebanon counterproposal, but none has come. Albany’s contends its water ratepayers are paying bills higher than necessary because Lebanon is not paying its share of the costs of the Albany-owned 18-mile canal, which supplies all of Lebanon’s and part of Albany’s domestic water. Lebanon is working on getting its own water source on the South Santiam River so it can stop using the canal.

That sets the scene. Now for the latest.

On June 1, Hare wrote to Lebanon City Manager Gary Marks demanding that Lebanon quit pumping water from the canal to augment Cheadle Lake. The letter claimed that “new piping has been connected to the pump,” that pumping from the canal into the lake was not authorized and the piping “must be removed immediatey.” Further, Hare threatened that Albany would remove the pumpling equipment within the canal right of way unless it heard from Lebanon by Friday.

Outrage from Lebanon was immediate. The city issued a press release titled: “Lebanon rejects Albany’s demand to drain Cheadle Lake.” (No such demand had been made.) Lebanon City Attorney Tre Kennedy also, in a letter to Albany City Attorney Jim Delapoer, pointed out, with documentation, that Albany officials had in fact approved of the pumping to augment Cheadle Lake in 2010.

Kennedy objected to what he called “strong-arm tactics to bully Lebanon” in the canal negotiations. And, tit for tat, he revoked permission for Albany officials to access the canal via Lebanon property, said the locks had been changed, and if Albany officials entered without 48-hour advance written notice the Lebanon police would cite them for trespass.

I checked out Cheadle Lake Friday. Everything was calm, but I did not find the pump. All I saw was some rusted old equipment near the entrance where the pipes were long gone.

An embankment separates the pond from the canal for about 0.85 miles (according to my bike computer). From the paved path crowning the embankment, it looked to me as though the lake level was higher than the water in the canal. Those water levels had been of concern to inspectors from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2014 and again last month. They say that if the lake level is higher than the canal, the embanknent becomes a dam and the lake a reservoir, and this requires safety inspections that in turn require removal of vegetation. (Check the video for a look at the scene.)

It was this FERC concern, and the possible added expense of dealing with it, that prompted Hare’s letter demanding that Lebanon quit raising the level of the pond by pumping. Looking at it on a hot afternoon, though, it’s hard to see a problem. Even if the embankment leaked or even failed in a spot, only a small part of the water in the pond would enter the canal, raising its level, but not by much. The difference in levels wasn’t more than a foot or so.

On Friday Hare told me what he has said before: All he wants is for the cities to reach a fair agreement on sharing costs of the canal. To that end, Albany has offered mediation or even arbitration, but so far no luck. (hh)

11 responses to “Canal fight getting out of hand”

  1. tom cordier says:

    As I understand from HH prior work–the reason Albany’s suggests Lebanon’s share is 10x more that Lebanon agrees to is that Albany “invested” a whole lot of money to improve the canal without any notification or agreement with Lebanon that the repairs are necessary or that the method of repair was the correct one.
    Analogy: you and I agree to split the cost of a used car. Then without notice you spend lots of money getting repairs done which I don’t think were necessary and you had the shop with the highest shop-rate do the work. You made the mess–so it’s on you, not me. Oh I’ll help but not based on our initial agreement.

    • Bob Woods says:

      Your analogy is not correct.

      I own a car, and you want to drive it because you don’t have a car. I bought the car on my own years ago, but I say “No problem” because I like being a good neighbor and you say I can use your driveway to get to my garage at the back of your lot.

      We agree that you’re going to pay 1/3 of the operating costs. You use the car every day for all your driving needs. However, you quit paying me years ago, or you paid far less than the costs I have to pay.

      It’s a special car and can’t be replaced without me spending an enormous amount of money. I decided to fix MY car to keep it running well and bring it into compliance with all the new rules. told you, the state, the feds and all the folks around the county that I was going to fix my car and I followed all the rules laid down to do that.

      You keep driving my car every day for all your needs. You still don’t pay me. You tell me you’re going to buy your own car, someday, but you still haven’t paid me what you owe from the past.

      You keep driving my car every day and now you close the driveway, unless I give you 48 hours notice, for me to access my car.

      And all of this is my fault? I don’t think so.

  2. Steve Bryant says:

    Let’s not portray this as a recent issue. During the entire time that I served as Albany’s City Manager from 1988 to 2005, Lebanon was frequently in violation of the 1986 agreement. Over the years, Lebanon has steadfastly refused to acknowledge their liabilities relative to their use (and abuse) of the canal.Albany became particularly concerned about the safety of our drinking water supply once we fully understood the extent to which Lebanon was using the canal as a principal means of conveying runoff from their surrounding streets and properties. Even with new street construction and maintenance projects where alternative storm drainage could have been provided, this practice continued over Albany objections. Albany has been more than generous and patient over the years with Lebanon. I would strongly encourage the two cities to enter into mediation by a neutral third party. If Lebanon can’t agree to a facilitated process then Albany has no choice but to file lawsuits to demand compliance with the 1986 agreement. The legal fees to both cities in that process will only result in higher water bills for customers of both cities.

  3. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Don’t you love it when governments fight each other?

    The city fights the county. The city fights the state. And all three proudly proclaim they are acting in my best interest. It’s like punching myself in the face.

    And, not satisfied with beating myself up, now “I” take the fight to my neighbor.

    Do “I” have a personality disorder?

    • Bob Woods says:

      So easy a shot to take – I’ll pass this time.

      The issue is enforcing a contract willingly entered into by two parties. Exactly what Libertarians espouse to be the fundamentally best way to run all of society and your preciously stated reason to disassemble virtually all government.

      Only in this case Albany has been trying to settle this without going to court for about 15 years or so. I think most people would find that laudable in general, but perplexed why it has been allowed to run for so long.

      So in the world of Gordon, seeking to enforce a contract is folly. Seeking to do it without going to court is folly. Albany utility rate payers picking up the tab for something someone else promised to pay is what, a good thing?

      I don’t think so.

  4. Roger says:

    Does Albany even need the canal any more? I say just vacate the thing if it is not needed.

    • Hasso Hering says:

      Yes, Albany needs it to help supply water to the town. It wants two sources in case of emergencies, and also to meet demand during parts of the year. Lebanon needs it also until it gets a new source on the river. After that, Lebanon will still need it to absorb much of its storm runoff, which is what Albany would like to stop but Lebanon says it has a historic right to continue. If Albany just shut the downstream portion of the canal down and filled it in, where would the runoff go?

    • Bob Woods says:

      The canal provides some basic function’s at this point:

      1) It provides peaking water flow during high demand periods and can serve as an alternate source in case the new intake on the Santiam needs some extended work or has a failure;

      2) In the higher flow months of fall through spring the city makes money on the electric generation capacity at the Vine Street plant;

      3) It provides flow through the canal and side outlet canals as an amenity for citizens, and was identified in future plans as a desired place for public access paths;

      4) Continued operation maintains a very significant set of water rights that the city holds, that could potentially be lost if the rights are not providing beneficial use;

      5) It maintains a water flow that was introduced well over one hundred years ago which helped create the existing riparian functions where the Calapooia hits the Willamette.

      In addition the Vine St. Plant is a very significant historical structure that is maintained and can show kids a working plant right in town.

  5. Roger says:

    It was my understanding that we are only using about 1/3 of the water capacity that is available to us, and that the canal represented a small fraction of that total. I concede to not be an expert on these numbers. In any case, if vacated, the current proposed amount that Albany is trying to charge Lebanon would seem like a bargain compared to the challenges they would face if the canal was just no longer there. While there would be some initial costs in closing the canal it would save a lot of money in the long run. I suspect the claim that we make money on the canal ignores the ongoing costs of maintaining it. If not, Lebanon has a point.

    • Bob Woods says:

      “Vacating”, as you say it has other consequences that you you’re not aware of.

      First, just shutting the gates does not relieve the property owners of the liabilities that are associated. As was pointed out, Lebanon has been using it to dumps some of their storm water – a bad idea – but that’s not likely to change. If the canal were to breach, Albany would be liable for damages to affected properties as the owner, not Lebanon. Since canals silt up naturally and get brush growing on it, it must be maintained even if there is no water flowing.

      There is also the point that when the canal was refurbished, along with the generator, it was planned that income from the hydroelectric generation would offset a portion of that cost. If the income goes away, that is lost.

      Yes Albany only CURRENTLY uses a portion of it’s water right. That’s because that water right does not automatically increase with population: it’s in reserve to serve future population growth, as long as the state does not decide to change things at some point.

      And yes, the amount flowing in the canal now is a lot less than it used to be. That’s because when Albany and Millersburg decided to jointly build the “new” water plant the majority of withdrawal was shifted to a new location.

      Things are almost always a lot more complicated than they initially seem. That’s why governments go through these elaborate public processes to explain and educate folks when their elected representatives have to make these expensive decisions.

      • James Carrick says:

        “Things are almost always a lot more complicated than they initially seem.

        Yes, that’s true and government is often to blame.

        “That’s why governments go through these elaborate public processes to explain and educate folks when their elected representatives have to make these expensive decisions.”

        Thank God we have government to fix those problems. :-)


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