By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes
While on a drive in rural Kansas – he thinks he was somewhere near Platt – Keizer’s city manager came upon one of the hundreds of painted water towers that dot the midwestern landscape.
It said: “‘If you’re reading this, you’re lost.”
“It’s sort of rural heart,” recalled City Manager Chris Eppley. “It’s some farmer that needed to be able to move water … he spent the money to put up a message he thought was amusing.”
Why Keizer’s own 100-foot water tower on Ridge Drive near Interstate 5 remains unadorned is a question Mayor Lore Christopher gets asked regularly, almost six years after it was built.
“At least once a week I hear, are you guys ever gonna paint that water tower?” Christopher said.
Despite numerous proposals throughout the years – some as simple as “Welcome to Keizer” and as ornate as a baseball or flowering iris – the large tower remains an example of function over form.
That’s largely because of the land lease arrangement that allowed it to be built in the first place.
Three groups, each with their own councils and potential agendas, have veto power over the final design: The Siletz tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, and the City of Keizer. The city owns the tower itself, but the tribes own the land that it sits on. A land lease gives the tribes some serious say over what goes on it.
On a couple of occasions, the city has started to move forward with possible design ideas. In 2007 they city council hosted a work session inviting the public to present designs. Some included a flowering iris, a golf ball, a mural of changing seasons and a baseball. In 2009 the city council rejected three basic proposals, all of which said “Welcome to Keizer” with some variation of the city’s logo.
Both times the tribes learned of the proposals in local media, and reminded the council of their veto power.
The tribes jointly proposed their own logo in 2009, anticipating a not-yet-built shopping development via a corporation owned by the two entities. It was never voted on, partially because it would have violated the local sign code, city officials said. Keizer Station’s owners also raised questions of fairness due to the sign’s commercial nature.
“Because of our zoning regulations we can’t put anything of a commercial nature on the tank,” Eppley said. “It has to be public only. Specifically, governmental. What the tribes wished to put on the tank didn’t fit under that, and it has become a bit of an issue we have been unable to work through.”
Siobhan Taylor, a spokesperson for the Grand Ronde, said a newspaper poll showed the Chemawa Station logo, which included a salmon along with irises (Keizer having deemed itself the Iris Capital of the World), had stronger support than any of those with the city logo.
“Grand Ronde felt we had come forward with something that welcomed people to the area and announced (Keizer) … and reminded people it was land held by Grand Ronde and Siletz,” Taylor said.
The latest proposal came from the Common Ground Alliance, an association of utility companies. You probably know them better as the folks behind 811, the number you’re supposed to call before you dig to locate underground utility lines.
They’re always looking to get their message out, and went as far as to propose a rendering that included the word “Keizer” along with 811’s logo and reminder.
“It’s more of a public service announcement than anything else, so it technically meets our requirements,” Eppley said. “Our concern was how can we reduce costs to the taxpayer.”
That didn’t appeal to the tribes.
“… To take (the tribal logo) out and have the city slap 811 up (doesn’t) accommodate the interests of the tribes in that area,” Taylor said.
Eppley said the tribes seemed amenable to simply putting “Keizer” on the tower, but then the city would have to pay for it. Painting it could cost $45,000 or more, and would require periodic touch-up. Vinyl lettering costs less initially, but is more expensive to maintain.
Christopher thinks local businesses should consider chipping in to pay for the lettering.
“I still think there’s a lot of value to that as a place marker and I’m not convinced that perhaps businesses wouldn’t be interested in some kind of partnership, (but) we hadn’t gotten to that point before now,” she said.
Thinking back to his days working in Kansas and Texas, Eppley remembers water towers as a landmark of the community. In the suburbs where one town runs into another, sometimes they were the only reminder of where, exactly, you were.
“In the midwest, people identify their community with what is on that water tower,” Eppley said. “Water towers here are seen more as simple public infrastructure versus a public identifier or big billboard. Does it make sense somewhere else to spend that kind of (public) money? Absolutely. … Does it make sense here? I honestly don’t know. It’s a lot of money for us to spend for that kind of activity. As the price goes up, my questions increase.”