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News arrow Community arrow History of Brookings arrow City faces problems with water supplies

City faces problems with water supplies Print E-mail
July 31, 2001 11:00 pm
City officials pose with the marble cornerstone laid at city hall in 1967. At right is Mayor Bruce Manley. ().
City officials pose with the marble cornerstone laid at city hall in 1967. At right is Mayor Bruce Manley. ().

A legal controversy over the ownership of the city's sewer system was in the making. Elmer Bankus claimed the system as the property of his Land and Townsite Company, of which he was president. But the city maintained the system was owned by the abutting property holders. Bankus had indeed bought the sewer system as part of the townsite in 1936, but he did not charge homeowners for the sewer service until about 1955. When he started to charge, there was tremendous public opposition, and with it came a growing demand that the sewer system be city-owned.

"This was one of the only instances in the entire country where a private party owned the sewer lines in a municipality," reported The Pilot.

In 1958, after almost four years of negotiations, the City paid Bankus $20,000 for his title to the sewer lines. Thirteen years later, construction of a secondary sewage treatment plant was started. This was financed through general obligation bonds approved by the city and with help of nearly $150,000 provided by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant. But Bankus still had the water system.

As early as 1946 a feature article in The Pilot traced the history of the then inadequate water distribution system:

In 1913 Brookings had one of the most modern water systems upon the entire Pacific Coast ... Brookings was again able to boast of the best water system in early 1947, when the water system was completely re-vamped and re-built.

The original system was laid out by Bill Ward and built by the Brookings Timber and Lumber Company in 1913. The original water main was built of redwood stave line and stretched from a nine million-gallon reservoir on Ferry Creek, then 11,400 feet to an old mill site.

In 1919, the Ferry Creek dam was raised to increase the reservoir capacity to 12 million gallons ... A mile-long flume was built from Ferry Creek reservoir to Joe Hall Creek.

Water distribution by this system covered the entire west half of the townsite as platted at that time. Water was distributed from the principle main to the area through four by six-inch wood mains. The system, besides serving the mill and most of the houses in Brookings, also included 17 fire plugs.

After the mill closed, the water system lacked maintenance to keep it in good repair, and by 1930 the flume from Joe Hall Creek could not be used. A four-inch main and a diesel pump were installed on Ransom Creek to insure adequate water for fire protection and a greater reserve for the low-water season.

A wooden water tank, with a 50,000-gallon capacity; was originally used as a water tower at the old mill site. However, after the mill closed it was moved to a point across from the high school and connected with the water system.

(The following information of an historic nature was written after Albert Hooten's term of office as city manager).

The use of the Ferry Creek reservoir was abandoned in 1945 although water was still taken from the creek, and the diesel pump at Ransom Creek reservoir was replaced by electric pumps.

That system was again modernized using cast iron, copper and transit pipe. When the re-construction program is completed each house to be served by the Brookings Water Company will be connected to the mains by copper piping, and each house will have a meter,

A new concrete reservoir, overlooking the town, will be built soon, which will have a 500,000 gallon capacity. The new lines are being laid so that they will extend up the north bank of the Chetco, above tidewater, so that an additional source of water will be available ...

When the Brookings Water Company completes the program, the water will be filtered and treated to meet the most rigid health and sanitation scrutiny. And it is estimated that domestic and irrigation demands will require one million gallons of water daily. The Pilot, May 23, 1946

In 1961, a special report prepared by a consulting engineer, outlined the feasibility of a city-owned water system. The council referred the report to an advisory commission for recommendations. Roy Weideman, chairman of the commission, stated that such a plan was necessary because "potential growth of the city is contingent upon the eventual establishment of a municipally-owned system." The commissioners as a group, however, felt that nothing could be done in that direction at that time, since it would cost the taxpayers around a million dollars to buy out Bankus or build a new system.

Some discussion continued until the fall of 1965 when a major water system crisis spotlighted the issue.

Front page headlines from The Pilot on Oct. 14, 1965, included: Emergency water System Eases City Peril, Sixth Day of Shortage, Schools Close for Five Days, Authorities Warn Residents to Boil Drinking Water, Typhoid Inoc-ulations Advised, Citizen Group to Study Ideas for City Water.

What had happened?

The city's main water source, the 36-million gallon Ferry Creek Reservoir went dry and a small standby reservoir at Ransom Creek could only be pumped from three to four hours a day. It did not deliver enough water to adequately serve the city.

For five days, over half the homes in Brookings had no water at all. Health officials warned the situation was very critical. Fire Chief Robert Kerr said fire danger was extreme.

The situation was eased when workmen, directed by Councilman Henry Kerr, installed a 600-gallon fire truck pumper in an auxiliary line to replace two electric pumps which had failed. Water was drawn from the Chetco River to enter the main lines, forcing water into the reservoir, thus restoring partial pressure. Seven tank trucks were standing by in case of fire. Curry County Civil Defense officials sent 14,000 gallons of water in 20-gallon containers to be used mainly for the health needs of invalids.

The following week the water situation was back to normal, but the previous general apathy about the city water supply and delivery system continued. Under-standably, people were demanding an adequate city-owned water system.

Two years later, the council reopened discussions on city water and called a special public meeting to discuss the problem. Residents claimed "poor service and muddy water." Bankus refused to set a selling price until he knew where the purchase money would come from, despite a challenge to him to do so by Fred Fox who asked:

"Why don't you talk dollars, sell your company and then maybe take a trip to Africa?" After that two-hour meeting the council agreed to form a petition for a bond issue of $1 million. When it was signed by only 119 people, Bankus declared "This hardly indicates to me that the people of Brookings (approximately 3,000) want to buy the Brookings Water Company."

Eight months later Bankus offered his plant to the City for $725,000. Councilmen called an October election to vote on a $1,300,000 bond issue for a "safe and adequate municipal water system." They proposed to take water form the Chetco River and to make many needed improve-ments in the system, which required the additional funds.

"Voters Drown Water Bonds 441-111" was the way The Pilot headlined the election result.

However, the Brookings City Council did not give up. Anticipating eventual development of a municipal water system, in December, 1966, they passed a 14-page emergency ordinance establishing water charges and regulations governing such a system. In August, 1967, the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce offered to mediate the continuing City-Bankus dispute.

In 1968, the councilmen announced that they had dropped plans to buy the Bankus water system, saying "we just plain can't afford it." Mayor Harold Young remarked that it was just "too big an undertaking."

But the issue was not dead. In 1970 a state health division official asked Brookings officials to stop issuing building and septic tank permits on lots which relied on water supplied by the Bankus system. The official charged that the Brookings Utilities Company did not meet the requirements of Oregon law because it did not provide "an adequate, safe and potable water supply for drinking, culinary and household uses." Bankus termed those charges untrue and fictitious.

So in April 1973, the Council decided to seek another bond issue, either to buy the Bankus water system or to construct an entirely new one. More than 200 people attended a lengthy symposium on the matter one Sunday afternoon. Roy Weideman, Chairman of the Citizens Council, Inc., Water Committee, chaired the meeting and argued for the bond issue but against purchasing the Bankus holding: "We've talked with Bankus for 20 years and never got to first base," he said. "He doesn't have the system we want; let's build our own."

A July election was held. The voters decided 541-77 to buy the Brookings Utilities Co., and authorized the sale of $2 million in general obligation bonds to pay for it. At last, in 1973, people of Brookings, through their elected government, owned both their sewer and their water systems.

In August 1959, the Brookings City Council created the position of City Administrator for Darrell Swatzel, a former city manager from Florence, Ore. By emergency ordinance the council gave Swatzel power to appoint and remove any city officers and employees except the municipal judge and the recorder. This gave him authority over nearly the entire operation of city services.

In January 1960, the city council debated the idea of having a city manager, and to put the proposal on the ballot at a special election that November. When the votes were counted, the measure was defeated.

In December of that same year four councilmen, over the objection of Mayor Fell Campbell, abruptly fired Swatzel for "incompetence." Specific charges were brought against him, most of which he denied. The councilmen returned to the council-mayor form of government, without replacing Swatzel.

City Hall Cornerstone

More than 100 Brookings and Harbor business firms and civic groups contributed material which was laid in the cornerstone of Brookings' new city hall during dedication ceremonies held at the new building ...

Radio station KURY presented a three-minute tape concerning activities in the area and a copy of the Brookings-Harbor Pilot's July 27 edition. A General Telephone Co. 1967 telephone book, exhibits from the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Post Office were among the articles placed in the cornerstone.

The granite cornerstone was set in place by Masonic officials aided by members of the Brookings City Council. Local arrangements were handled by the Sidney Croft Masonic Lodge #206 of Brookings. The Pilot, Aug. 3, 1967

 

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