Activists Ready to Launch Ballot Initiative for Portland Public Water District

Activists are aiming to put the Portland water wars back on the ballot—this time with the goal of wresting control of the water and sewer bureaus from City Hall.

A coalition of water activists and utility ratepayers say they'll officially announce Thursday morning what has been expected for months: They are collecting signatures for a May 2014 ballot initiative to create a "Portland Public Water District," according to an email sent from activist Floy Jones to her group Friends of the Reservoirs.

WW has previously reported that a people's utility district campaign—which would take utility decisions out of Portland city commissioners' control—is being organized by lobbyist and Alaska Seaplanes President Kent Craford.

Last fall, Craford helped launch a $126.9 million lawsuit against the city alleging misuse of utility ratepayer dollars. (Craford won't say who's funding the suit, but his previous backers have included companies paying some of the city's largest water and sewer bills.)

The campaign for an independent district is envisioned as a public referendum to unite activists outraged by the city's spending of water and sewer on multimillion-dollar projects—including the $279 million construction of underground tanks to replace the city's open-air reservoirs and comply with federal rules.

The initiative is expected to bring back many of the same water purity activists who opposed fluoride, and could also gain the support of companies with huge utility bills.

But Craford and his allies have revealed little about their backing or their plan.

The email offers a few more details—including the goals of "removing utility management and rate-setting from City Hall politicians [and] setting up an independent elected board of 7 members with a limited-term chair."

It also promises to fight cronyism by creating "eligibility waiting periods for water/sewer contractors, employees, City Hall staffers and politically-appointed advisory body members."

UPDATE, 3:01 pm: Craford is expected to speak tomorrow in front of a Portland Water Bureau building, joined by Floy Jones of Friends of the Reservoirs and Mount Tabor occupier Jessie Sponberg.

Here is the full email: