Citizens' oversight group praises zoo bond implementation

March 21, 2014 - 2:08pm

Independent committee lauds Oregon Zoo's progress in report to Metro Council

The Oregon Zoo continues to deliver on promises made in 2008, when the region's voters approved a $125 million zoo bond measure promoting animal welfare and sustainability, a citizen-oversight group reports.

At a meeting of the Metro Council yesterday, the Oregon Zoo Bond Citizens' Oversight Committee commended Metro and zoo staff for their effectiveness in implementing a host of projects funded by the community-supported bond measure as well as for its responsiveness in addressing committee recommendations and questions.

"It's an incredibly responsive group of professionals you have working for you on this project," committee chair Deidra Krys-Rusoff told the Metro Council. "Our committee is not afraid to ask the hard questions — and we do. And it may not always be comfortable, but the zoo staff and the bond program is always very good about getting us an answer."

Among the projects examined by the committee: the nearly completed Condors of the Columbia exhibit, set to open in May, and the $57 million Elephant Lands project, which reached a milestone last month as crews completed work on a portion of the habitat's large southern expanse.

"The project will significantly expand the habitat," the report said, "allowing for an evolution in the way the elephants use their space."

Other projects of note included construction of a service access road, rerouting of the zoo train loop, relocation of the zoo's Wild Life Live headquarters and plans for a new education center scheduled to begin construction in 2015.

The committee's most substantial comments had to do with plans for constructing an offsite elephant center, which — while not specified in the 2008 ballot measure — is considered a key part of the zoo's vision for supporting multigenerational families as the zoo elephant herd continues to grow naturally.

In addressing this vision, committee members reiterated their previous recommendation that bond funds not be "expended on infrastructure and habitat for an offsite facility without an adequate assessment of the ongoing costs of operating the offsite facility and identification of revenue sources." The report said the committee would "continue to monitor the schedule, resources and use of bond funds on the project."

The Oregon Zoo Bond Citizens' Oversight Committee — an independent group of local professionals with experience in construction, sustainability, public budgeting and animal welfare — is charged with overseeing the zoo bond program "to ensure that structure, expenditures and defined goals are on track."

Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington applauded the citizen group for its diligence in overseeing the bond's implementation and its thoroughness in reporting to the Metro Council and voters.

"I really appreciate the work that these 14 volunteers do for all of us by serving on the oversight committee," said Harrington, who represents District 4 in Washington County. "They are an incredibly valuable set of eyes — and brains."