Rube Goldberg Fix

by Lou Binninger




            Last Tuesday, Marysville City Council pooled its ignorance, speculation of “experts,” and professional doubters to move forward with making Ellis Lake into a million dollar aquarium. This ‘Rube Goldberg’ contraption (approaching a simple task in a convoluted way) will sport 25 lake-bottom aerators, 2 compressors and chemicals.



           The city has had trouble just paying the utilities (a few thousand annually) for the well serving the lake and then chemicals to kill algae but it now miraculously can afford $45,000 in annual upkeep not counting chemicals ($20,000 per dose) after spending more than $700,000 to start. When complete, the water still will not be clean enough for human contact.


The “Aquarium” may become the laughingstock of the valley. It certainly will compete with the $17 million, 5 acre, B Street Boondoggle a stone’s throw east of the slimy pond as a waste of money.


EKI Environment and Water along with MHM (engineering) are heavy on hot air and lite on homework. They are good at prognostication and scenarios rather than dealing with facts. The connection between phosphorous, nitrogen, oxygen and algae can be found on Google by an elementary student. Can any of them even find the pump on the river?


Lake Ellis benefactor’s businessman Charles Mathews and retired Fish and Wildlife employee Dale Whitmore offered to spend $11,500 of their own money to prove that using Yuba River water will fix the lake. Marysville has everything to gain and nothing to lose. But the city manager wants to have her way even if her legacy here is the unaffordable contraption.


Ellis Lake was successfully served by pumping Yuba River Water for forty years when City Hall had a revelation -- pump ground water instead (the source of phosphorous that creates algae.) As usual, government caused the problem and then citizens pay for government to fix it.


In 1996, the city spent $8111 to pump Yuba River water into the lake. That’s a long way from spending EKI’s $45,000 annually to maintain equipment and the lake. And the EKI ‘Aquarium’ is still unfit for human use.

EKI and City Manager Marti Brown grossly exaggerate the permitting process challenge, water rights issues and the costs to ready the pump. This deception is done to sway the council to a predetermined loser approach. Brown has the council members by the short-hairs and like many city and county administrators has forgotten who her bosses are. She acts like they work for her.


EKI says it needs to add oxygen and remove phosphorous to clean the lake. However, their plan does not solve the problem that simply pumping Yuba River water would. Maybe EKI needs to place a guarantee in their contract to allow the citizens to sue them if the lake does not shape-up. Why should EKI and Marti Brown walk away with hundreds of thousands of dollars and citizens end up with slime and an unaffordable contraption?


This is one of those ‘professional solutions’ where there’s a disclaimer to not try this at home due to unintended consequences.


Ellis Lake has for years been symbolic of Marysville City Hall incompetence, just like Wollman Ice Rink in Central Park was for New York City.  After opening in 1950, New York in 1974 began to refurbish the attraction. However, in 1980, it was deemed unusable. By 1986, $12.9 million had been spent, with an additional $2 to $3 million estimated to complete the work by the winter of 1987.


Businessman Donald Trump finally stepped in offering to use his own money and skill to renovate the government mess in 6 months. Mayor Ed Koch resisted and began feuding with Trump and did his best to avoid losing face against a brighter private sector effort. Koch hoped Trump would fail to distract from the city’s bungled effort.


 After 12 years and $13 million of city waste, Trump started and completed the rink in 4 months, 25% below budget and opened in time for the winter holidays. It was a lesson in common sense and superior management.


Government ineptitude is legend -- $640 toilet seats, $7,600 coffee pots, $8,000 for helicopter gears worth $500, $50,000 to investigate the bomb-detecting capabilities of African elephants, billions of dollars of food stamps spent on the dead, and checks to ‘ghost’ soldiers.


Don’t task the city with changing a diaper. It would produce chaos, take years, and break the bank.


(Get Lou’s podcast at “No Hostages Radio” and his articles at nohostagesradio.com)

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