Sierra Club won't endorse water bond issue

Wednesday, October 22, 2008 | 12:06 a.m. CDT; updated 10:36 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Osage Group Sierra Club reported at a public forum Monday night that it would take no action to endorse the upcoming water bond issue for the November ballot.

The proposed bonds for $38.9 million concentrate on renovations and additions to the water distribution system in Columbia.

Stan Silvey, chair of the Osage Group, said that his seven-person committee did not feel strongly enough to support the issue because they felt that it did not deal directly with trihalomethane levels in the drinking water, which is the Sierra Club's prime concern.

Trihalomethanes, carcinogens that were previously found in the drinking water at levels above government standards, are being investigated by a number of parties as to their source and potential solution.

"My understanding is that we expect a new USGS report soon that will help us sort out the trihalomethane issue," Silvey said. "Right now, we don't know enough about how the bond issue might address that."

Ben Londeree, chair of the Boone County Smart Growth Coalition, said that his group also did not come to a consensus in support of the bond issue for similar reasons having to do with the pollutant. He also did not agree with the use of bonds to support the renovations.

"It seems that Water and Light is not being forthright with the issue," Londeree said.

He said that some members of Smart Growth did support the bond because it addressed a need to fix problems with the water system, but that the coalition did not come close enough to a full consensus to formally support the issue.

While taking a neutral stance, the Sierra Club also sought to inform the public about future plans for energy. During the meeting, there were presentations on the Missouri Clean Energy Initiative and the Integrated Resource Plan, which could  both mandate where Columbia gets its energy in the future and how it should do so.

Hank Ottinger, the political chair of the Sierra Club, said that his group chose these topics because it wanted to inform residents about energy-related issues that may affect them in the near future. 

"We thought it was time to have an open forum of issues that the public may not be aware of," Ottinger said.

Ottinger and Dick Parker, both of whom were members of the Power Supply Task Force, a group of government officials and citizens that helped create the Integrated Resource Plan, gave a presentation on some of the recommendations in the plan.

The Integrated Resource Plan is a study done by the engineering company Burns and McDonnell that looked at available energy resources, current and potential options for generating electricity, and methods of energy conservation.

Many of  the recommendations from this plan that Ottinger and Parker touched upon during the meeting were related to reducing demand for energy. More than half of the recommendations were on demand, which was contrary to what the task force expected.

"We were pleasantly surprised to hear the recommendations," Parker said. "This is a strong program. What we need to watch now is that it is implemented as a strong program."

Some of the recommendations that Ottinger and Parker highlighted were improving building codes for commercial and residential spaces and further implementing time-of-use energy metering that would charge different rates for different times of the day.

Ottinger and Parker said that they were worried that the city will not have enough staff to focus on the plan and that the recommendations would be "watered down."

Ottinger said that he doesn't expect that most of the recommendations will meet with much resistance. He said that changing building codes would probably draw the most opposition.

"Whenever you start messing around with building codes, realtors and building contractors will be concerned."

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