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City drops fluoride issue -- for now

The Hood River City Council tabled further discussion of water fluoridation after looking over financial data on Feb. 25.

According to figures provided by Dave Bick, consulting engineer, it would cost the city about $106,000 to build a combination chloride/fluoride plant, $535 a month for supplies, and $1,000 for monthly maintenance. Mark Lago, director of city public works/engineering, disputed the $5,500 per year labor costs given by Bick. He said because of travel time to the upper valley station, the cost for manpower would actually pencil out to about $27,000 annually.

At the Feb. 25 meeting, Bick represented the Portland engineering firm of Berger/ABAM, which was hired with $580,833 of federal grant funding last fall to design the reconstruction of a 73-year-old pipe. That line runs a stretch of about 17 miles from the five million gallon reservoir on Riverdale Drive to the city's water source near Lost Lake. City officials asked Bick to also research the start-up and operational costs for a fluoridation system before they made any further move to address the controversial issue.

After reviewing his tabulations, the council decided to build a $30,000 chlorination building that would be large enough to house a fluoride plant in the future if funding became available. Bick was directed to incorporate that plan into technical drawings for the $6.2 reconstruction work on the 20-inch main line. Lago has been working with Bick during the past few weeks to re-route the line so that it runs along public right-of-ways instead of through orchard property and even under a private residence.

Lago said the new chloride plant will also be more accessible since the existing structure is sited between 200-300 feet from the roadway and will be moved to within 30 feet. However, the plant may need to be used only optionally once the new pipes are installed in the fall of 2003. Lago said because the city encased the headworks of its spring water in 1996, the supply has been protected from chloroform brought by groundwater runoff. Although the city has chlorinated its water since late 1991 because of seepage in the the aging pipes, he said the purity of the spring water could make an additive unnecessary except in an emergency. City officials also plan to address that issue at a later date.

Last spring Councilor Charles Haynie raised the issue of fluoridation because he believed it would contribute positively to the public health by strengthening the teeth of children. However, that suggestion sparked strong public debate over potential chemical reactions, whether the benefits would outweigh the loss of personal choice, and if fluoridation of city water would reach targeted populations in the outlying areas of the county.

After receiving numerous pro and con letters and expert opinions, city officials decided to put off further discussion until they had firm figures for the start-up and operational costs. They said that because of polarized viewpoints, any proposal for a water additive needed to be brought before a vote of the people, although they were undecided about whether the city should put the issue on the ballot or it should be initiated by citizens.

"I think the community needs to see these cost estimates so they can be thinking about this issue," concluded Councilor Paul Thompson at Monday's meeting.

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