There are several questions that need to be answered regarding an $86,977 fine levied on the city of Pendleton by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality regarding its new fire station.
One thing that is not in question is why the city was fined.
ODEQ OK’d a city permit in 2018 to discharge storm water during construction of the new firehouse. The city was also required under the mandates of the permit to create and execute an erosion and sediment blueprint.
When DEQ officials visited the site last spring, they found the city had not put best practices into place to control erosion. The city also apparently violated the permit when it failed to visually monitor stormwater runoff during construction.
The ODEQ levied the penalty on the city on Sept. 25. Pendleton Public Works Director Bob Patterson said the amount of the fine was a surprise and the city immediately worked to tackle the problem.
The fact the city reacted fast to fix the challenge should be good news to voters. The quick response shows city officials want to fix the problem as fast as possible and not ignore it.
What shouldn’t be good news to voters is the city somehow placed itself in a position where it might have to fork over about $87,000 in taxpayer money to the state.
The key question is what happened? Why did the city not display the proper oversight on this specific issue? What is the city going to do next?
A partial answer to the last question was found in a story in this newspaper last week. The city attorney is working to appeal the size of the fine. That’s also good news. But it misses the central question as to why the city finds itself in this position in the first place.
Ordinarily a rebuke from the state DEQ could be presented as a learning moment, a way to do better next time. Except in this case, the hefty fine should get the attention of every voter.
More than anything, voters — taxpayers — need a very detailed and lucid answer as to why Pendleton must pay a fine. Even if the final price is dropped, it still doesn’t take away from the fact a series of decisions — or indecisions — placed the taxpayers of this community out on a limb.
No one demands perfection from our elected and appointed leaders. We are all human and mistakes happen. But the taxpayers are going to need an explanation — and soon — about why this happened.