Prosser water reservoir construction continues

PROSSER -- Once a favorite local controversy, the north Prosser water reservoir has quietly taken shape 120 feet into the sky over the city's northwest entrance.

Construction workers this week hoisted the 19,000-pound roof over the 1.2-million-gallon monolith, which stands sentinel off Interstate 82 at the corner of Wine Country and Albro roads.

The tower is one of many recent municipal projects for the city of 5,700, including new water lines for the Village Park housing subdivision and the aquatic center in Miller Park.

"It's exciting, it's busy," said L. J. DaCorsi, the city public works director. "We welcome it."

The reservoir is scheduled to be complete by the end of October. The tower, accompanying water and sewer extensions and a booster pump cost nearly $2.6 million, paid for with low-interest federal and state loans.

The city has installed lighting, and plans to paint a city logo on the west side and the Prosser High School Mustang logo on the east.

City officials and business leaders have discussed the tower for at least 10 years, calling it the best alternative to boost water pressure for business and firefighting in the rapidly growing commercial area along the north edge of town near the freeway.

Mayor Paul Warden called it "the key to any development in that end."

In 2007, Desert Valley Powersports almost dropped plans to build its Merlot Drive boat and motorcycle retail business because of low water pressure in the area, said Deb Heintz, executive director of the Prosser Economic Development Association.

"(The tower) was something that the community absolutely had to have to expand and stay healthy as a community," Heintz said.

Not all were so convinced. As recently as four years ago, the tower became a symbol for accusations of money-wasting by City Hall critics.

City council members at the time briefly discussed building the reservoir in the shape of a wine glass, but scrapped the idea after engineers told them it would add $600,000 to the price tag.

The reservoir was one of the major issues driving campaigns for the 2007 city council elections, during which 13 candidates filed for three offices in the primary. Four candidates ran for mayor, including Warden, who won.

Many challengers criticized incumbents for putting wine tourists and new businesses ahead of established neighborhoods and approving rate increases to pay for the improvements. Prosser's water rates increased 8 percent in 2008, 4.5 percent in 2009 and 1 percent this year.

One of the candidates, Clif Steelman, contended the city could accomplish the same goals by revamping existing pipes leading from the 3-million-gallon tank south of town on the slope of the Horse Heaven Hills.

Steelman, who didn't get elected, said he still has the same position but declined to discuss the issue now that construction has started.

"Kicking a dead horse never solves anything," he said.