- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - A newly-installed drinking fountain adds a classy touch to a West Salem neighborhood, but for Marvin Sannes it’s also a parable about bureaucracy.

Sannes’ nearly two-and-a-half year effort to have a drinking fountain installed on Edgewater Street NW has ended in success. The project took patience, ingenuity and cost Sannes about $6,000 - about three times more than he expected.

In spring 2012, Sannes became interested in a 1940s-era drinking fountain, which hadn’t worked in decades. The fountain was in front of Annette’s Westgate Cafe. Sannes thought it would be “fun” to get the old fountain working again.

“It turned into a big, involved process,” he said.

The owner of Annette’s let Sannes have the cast-concrete drinking fountain. Sannes started making plans to move it across the street and place it front of the old West Salem City Hall, a building at 1320 Edgewater Street NW that he has owned since 1989.

His vision of having a historic drinking fountain paired with a historic building hit its first obstacle when Sannes wanted to put the drinking fountain in the public-right of way. Placement of the fountain was solved when the city agreed to buy a sliver of Sannes’ property, with the proviso that he would install and maintain the fountain.

The next hitch was harder to overcome: plumbing problems.

Sannes thought he could simply let the fountain drain into a catch basin, the same place rain goes after a storm.

He was wrong. As Sannes explains, he was informed by the city that “you can’t spit in the river.” The outdoor fountain would need to drain into a sewer pipe, just like a plumbing fixture inside a house.

Unfortunately, Sannes found it was “virtually impossible” to hook up the fountain up to the sewer and stay in compliance with the plumbing code because of a number factors. He peppered city inspectors with questions about possible solutions to no avail.

“I just threw up my hands,” Sannes said.

Next, Sannes took his plumbing conundrum to a state building code expert. The state expert suggested that a French drain - a device that slowly releases water into the ground - would solve the problem.

After Sannes paid $2,000 to have a French drain installed, a city inspector came by and wrote a stop order, he said.

Sannes then learned that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality would need to issue an “underground injection” permit before the French drain could be used. In response to a Statesman Journal inquiry, a DEQ spokesman confirmed that a state permit is required for projects that may inject water into the aquifer.

Sannes applied to DEQ for the permit, and a month later, it was approved.

Mike Watson, a foreman with Judson’s Inc. in Salem, the company that installed the fountain, said the installation itself was relatively simple. He didn’t find the permitting processes unreasonable.

“We just had to cross all our t’s and dot our i’s,” Watson said.

The fountain, which was restored by local artist Bob Thrush, has been operating for a couple of weeks. Sannes has added a stainless steel pedestal that small children can use as a step. He’s thinking about getting a park bench to place nearby.

Salem City Councilor Dan Clem, who represents West Salem, said the neighborhood appreciates Sannes’ efforts to make Edgewater Street NW a more inviting place.

As for Sannes, the project is his first - and probably last - drinking fountain. He did, however, offer some encouragement for others willing to wade through red tape.

Despite his frustrations, Sannes praises the city. The drinking fountain would have never been built without several city employees, such as Annie Gorski and Courtney Knox Busch, helping push the project along, he said.

Sannes notes that “there is always one knucklehead” who isn’t interested in helping, particularly on a tiny project. The secret to getting things done, he said, is seeking out those public servants who want to be problem solvers.


Information from: Statesman Journal, https://www.statesmanjournal.com

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