Council OKs contract for wastewater plant upgrade

Benny Westcott

The Sweet Home City Council voted unanimously Tuesday, March 14, to award an Aumsville firm a contract for upgrades to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Councilor Angelita Sanchez abstained from the vote, citing a potential conflict of interest.

Under the nearly $840,000 deal, Boede Construction will install mechanical, electrical and controls equipment, and a sludge blend tank at the newly named Mahler Water Reclamation Facility, with a goal of completing the project by June 30.

The contract also includes a 10% contingency ($84,000) controlled by the city manager, bringing the total project budget to $923,995.

The interim project was launched to improve conditions at the plant, built in 1947 and last upgraded in 1974. City officials have repeatedly noted that the outdated facility struggles with capacity issues.

In 2001, the city reached an agreement with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to address ongoing wastewater system overflows and discharge violations caused primarily by inflow and infiltration in the collection system, which is water that enters the sewer system through deteriorating pipes and cross-connections with storm drainage.

Last August, the plant experienced unusually high flow levels, followed by die-offs of biological life in its aeration basin, on a pair of Tuesdays two weeks apart. Residents complained about odors from the plant during the events.

More recently, the DEQ issued the city a $22,445 civil penalty for more than 125 violations of state water-quality protection law over several years. A Jan. 19 letter cited the city for failing to meet pollutant limits and conduct wastewater monitoring required by its wastewater permit, and for violating state law by discharging raw sewage and non-disinfected wastewater into Ames Creek.

The council also voted unanimously to authorize City Manager Kelcey Young to sign a contract with Cameron McCarthy Landscape Architecture & Planning of Eugene for an updated parks system master plan.

Sweet Home received a $30,000 Oregon Parks & Recreation grant, with a required 40% match of $20,000 from the city.

Last updated in 2014, the existing plan failed to include standards for park amenities or distances residents should be required to travel to reach a park. Additionally, it did not include a clear plan for additional park land and did not include the Quarry Park property acquired by the city in 2017.

Last year, city staff applied for and received the Oregon Parks and Recreation grant for an updated plan, then issued a request for proposals in January. Only Cameron McCarthy responded, but, according to Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen, the firm was “highly recommended, [with] the experience and skills necessary to complete the work within the city’s budget.”

Also at the meeting:

— Geoff Hamlin was sworn in as the Sweet Home Police Department’s newest sergeant.

Hamlin joined the department in 2012. His duties have included detective and school resource officer. He worked with the Josephine County Community Corrections Department in Grants Pass from 2009 to 2010, when he transferred to the county’s patrol division.

Hamlin joined the U.S. Navy in April 2004 as a master of arms, performing law enforcement and base security duties, including harbor and bike control. He was also certified as a field train officer. He deployed to Camp Bucca, Iraq, in 2007, on a one-year tour working in detainee operations. He remained in the Navy reserves until March 2010.

Hamlin later attended Oregon State University, graduating in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

“I have heard such positive things about your work with the school district and as a detective,” Young told Hamlin.

“So it’s very exciting to get to see you now moving into sergeant as well. I can’t say enough how much we appreciate all of our officers, and for somebody to continuously put themselves in harm’s way in order to protect this community is very inspiring and it’s so appreciated.”

— A number of other city personnel were lauded for their work.

Public Works employees Chris Patton and Jaeger Howatt were named state Wastewater Operator of the Year and Water Operator of the Year, respectively.

“Your hard work has been keeping everything going for us,” Young told the pair. “I don’t think the community quite recognizes how hard a job this is. We have been having some challenges with our wastewater treatment plant and so forth, but we also have had a very strong team working on this.”

“It’s not easy what you guys do,” Public Works Director Greg Springman added. “This is a big award. You guys should enjoy it, and I’m extremely proud and grateful to have you working for us.”

Young also gave Utilities Manager Steven Haney a challenge coin to commend him for his work.

Continuing the waterfall of accolades, she mentioned that the city received Best Tasting Surface Water and Best Tasting Overall Water awards from the state for 2023.

Additionally, Young shared that Sweet Home Public Library Director Megan Dazey was recently elected for a three-year term as vice chair/chair-elect of the Oregon Library Association Public Library Division Board for 2023-2024.

— The council voted unanimously to authorize Young to sign an application to amend zone and comprehensive plan designations of city and Sweet Home School District properties to the public facility zone.

When the city updated its development code last fall, it added a public zone, which Larsen said was “long-needed” and “makes it significantly easier to do improvements to city-owned property.”

As it currently stands, all city-owned properties covered by the application are in different zones, mostly the R-1 residential zone.

“Because of that, anytime we make any changes, we have to do a conditional use for ourselves,” Larsen said, “and it adds an element of delay to any project that we want to do, and extra complexity that we don’t actually need.”

He added that the city met with the school district and learned that it wanted to be included in the application as well. As a result, its property also falls under the public facility zone designation, making it easier for the district to make improvements to its properties.

Larsen said the city would also be reaching out to the Sweet Home Fire & Ambulance District about the zone-changing option.

— Young announced a Community Market to be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays from May 20 to Sept. 23 (minus Aug. 5, the weekend of the Oregon Jamboree) in the parking lot of the Sweet Home Public Library, 1101 13th Ave. The event will be open to all vendors as long as their goods are appropriate and legal. Sign-ups for the market will be available the second week of April, and a link to the sign-up page will be posted on the city’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/cityofsweethome/) and its website, http://www.sweethomeor.gov.

“We are inviting everybody in the community,” Young said. “We have been hearing a lot about wanting to have additional business and additional places to go on Saturdays, and a way to support our community businesses.”

She added that four citywide garage sales were scheduled May 13, June 17, July 8 and Aug. 5, times and locations to be determined.

“This would be held at the residences,” she said. “It’s a way to try to cooperatively have yard sales and garage sales all on the same day, which can ideally drive in more business. Of course, everyone is always welcome to hold yard sales on other dates as well.”

— The council conducted a second reading of an ordinance reestablishing a city traffic safety committee, which would serve as an advisory board to the council and make recommendations regarding parking and traffic safety.

— The council conducted a third and final reading of an ordinance to add a section on mobile food units (MFUs) to the Sweet Home Municipal Code. City staff drafted the section following frequent MFU-installation requests and a lack of city code to support them. Staff used Lebanon and Albany’s MFU codes as examples for Sweet Home’s.

The section reads that MFU “pods,” or a group of two or more mobile food units on a parcel of land, would be considered permanent installations and require prior site plan approval, as well as lighting in areas occupied by customers.

All MFU and customer amenities within a pod need a 5-foot-wide (at minimum) hard-surfaced, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant walkway. Waste and recycling receptacles have to be provided.

Restrooms with hot and cold running water and nonportable toilets should be available on-site or on an adjacent parcel, with a signed agreement allowing for their use.

All MFUs have to maintain a 6-foot minimum clearance from any other MFU or structure.

Electrical generators need to be at least 10 feet from other structures, with any exhaust directed away. MFUs have to remain operable and mobile, although their wheels could be removed if they were stored onsite.

An MFU can only operate within the city for no more than three days within any 30-day period without first obtaining a permit. However, one could operate sans permit within special events, such as a farmer’s market or public festival. In addition, an MFU in the public right-of-way is exempt from needing a permit if parking regulations are followed and it doesn’t block pedestrian or vehicle traffic.

After obtaining a permit, an MFU is limited to one year at a given site, with an unlimited number of one-year extensions that require new permits.

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