Councilors approve $788,000 contract for Wastewater Treatment Plant designs

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home City Council last week approved an agreement with Murraysmith and Associates to begin work on schematic designs for the proposed Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrades for $788,000.

The city completed four projects to replace sewer lines and service laterals from 2003 to 2012 to reduce inflow and infiltration, storm water that enters the sewer system through deteriorating pipes or cross connections to the sewer system and overloads the treatment plant during heavy rain.

Since then, the city is planning upgrades to the treatment plant to handle the remaining excess flows.

In spring 2017, the plant had several violations for total suspended solids and E. coli bacteria during heavy weather events, said Public Works Director Greg Springman. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued an enforcement letter in June. In August, the DEQ held an enforcement meeting with city staff to discuss options for compliance.

The root cause of the violation was compounded by two factors, Springman said, the age of the infrastructure and a change in wastewater volume and characteristics since the plant’s construction, the addition of a steady stream of “flushable” materials on the markets, which causes a buildup of the material throughout the treatment process.

Murraysmith presented a proposal last month to the council to rehabilitate much of the existing plant, as well as replacement of some equipment, a project estimated to cost around $24 million, far less than previous estimates for new construction at around $42 million.

The schematic design phase is 20 to 25 percent of the overall design phase, Springman told the council. The city will spend another $1.5 million to complete the final design.

At this point, Murraysmith will look at the entire property, the plans, geotechnical details and what can be repaired and retained to create schematic designs.

“It’s basically going to set us up when we’re at the end to understand exactly what it’s going to take and have a good rough estimate what it’s going to cost the city in the long run,” Springman said. The city is considering taking out a loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fund the project.

“With some of their funding, we’re required to do certain reports as a part of this,” he said.

“Another thing that we’re required to do is another rate study. If we’re going to get federal money, they need to ensure that our rates are such that we’re going to be able to have that mechanism in place when the plant’s basically reconstructed, that we’re going to be able to recoup our costs but also be able to pay for the funding that we’re going to request to build this plant, which is just under $24 million.”

City Manager Ray Towry said that due to “the financial circumstances of our community,” Sweet Home has qualified for the lowest interest rate that USDA offers, “which, I believe, is 2.21 percent.”

“The trick with USDA funding is that they reimburse, so you have to do the project and then they come in and buy that out.”

The city will seek interim financing through Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency, or the DEQ to complete the project, he said.

“It’s a big-ticket item, no doubt about that, however we’ve kicked that can down the road as far as we can,” Towry said. “Right now, the state is being really nice to us because they see we’re making progress and moving forward. If that progress were to stop, I would be concerned about what the repercussions would be.”

He said funding for the schematic design phase isn’t a line item in this year’s budget. It will be spent over time as the process is completed.

“With what we just raised rates, we’ve now made up our deficit that we were in over the last two months,” Towry said. “Since we incorporated that change, everything that we build now will go over into this project. When you start looking long term, down the road, we have some long-term debt that we’ll actually pay off throughout this process.”

That will free up cash flow that could help with this project as well, he said. “We do have $2 million coming from the state in April of next year, and we have been working with both state and federal elected representatives to try and find some other funding sources and some other help. We’ll continue to do that as well. The reality is we’re at that point where we really have a choice.”

“I don’t think we can raise our rates right now,” said Mayor Greg Mahler.

Springman said the city’s consultants “should be able to easily calculate and project what our rate’s going to be, given the fact that some debt’s going to fall off.

“We’ll eventually be taking on other debt, but I think the idea is they want to keep those rates (affordable).”

The council approved the agreement 6-0 during its regular meeting held March 13. Present were Bob Briana, Susan Coleman, Lisa Gourley, Mahler, Dave Trask and Diane Gerson. James Goble was absent.

In other business, the council appointed Lance “Wally” Shreves to a four-year term on the Park and Tree Committee, with the term expiring on March 13, 2022, and Debra Sue Northern to a two-year term on the committee, expiring on April 26, 2020.