Landowner tells council LID offers solutions, despite costs

Benny Westcott

Local businessman Josh Victor of 44004 Wiley Creek spoke to Sweet Home city councilors at their March 9 meeting in support of the proposed local improvement district after residents in the north Sweet Home area complained to the council at its previous meeting that the LID would cost them too much.

Several citizens expressed firm resistance to the proposed local improvement district at the Feb. 23 City Council meeting.

Victor addressed Councilors Angelita Sanchez, Susan Coleman, Lisa Gourley, Mayor Greg Mahler, Diane Gerson and Dave Trask. Councilor Dylan Richards did not attend the meeting due to health reasons.

Victor noted he was the one who initiated the proposal by going around and talking to residents and getting their signatures in support of an LID in the area that would fund street and water system improvements in the area surrounding Willow Street east of 18th Avenue.

“Obviously, everybody wanted it, just nobody really wants to pay for it,” he said.

Victor owns 32 of the 58 properties in the district.

“I’ve been pushing for it a lot,” he said of a Willow Street LID. “When everyone says ‘nobody wants it,’ it’s not ‘nobody wants it.'”

“I’ve been working on this for a long time,” he added. “I think it’s very important down there.”

Of the current situation in the area, he said, “It’s horrible, and I think everybody knows it is.”

Victor said he doesn’t blame residents, though, for not wanting to pay for the proposed project given the price tag for many homeowners under the initial plan.

“When we first put this together we didn’t know what kind of costs it was going to be for anyone, and frankly, it was a lot higher than I thought it would be for all of my properties too,” he said.

He noted that at his Wiley Creek properties, “I do have wells that run dry, and I run water to neighbor’s houses because their wells run dry.”

Mahler responded: We are revisiting this. It has come back before the city, and they’re crunching numbers and we’re looking at options. I think everybody agrees that it needs to be done, but how we get there is going to be the challenge.”

Trask said “We’re not against this. We got a little bit of a mixed message,” he said, referring to the public comments about the proposed LID at the February 23 council meeting. “It was a little difficult for us.”

“We’re working through sticker shock,” added Mahler. The citizens who spoke out against the LID at the Feb. 23 meeting were mostly concerned about the price of the project for local residents.

“We’ll continue to work with the neighborhood residents and try to come up with something that’s palatable for people in that area,” said City Manager Ray Towry.

Water Treatment Plant

Preston Van Meter, Sweet Home’s Engineer of Record, representing West Yost Associates, gave a presentation to the council on the public works projects that the city is currently working on.

One of these, the “WTP Bulk Hypo Conversion Project,” involves replacing the failing onsite hypochlorite generation system at Sweet Home’s water treatment plant. This system uses salt to create the bleach that ends up feeding into the treatment process to do the disinfection. According to Van Meter, the lifespan of one of those systems is about a decade. The engineers decided to make the switch to what is called a “bulk hypochlorite system,” which operates on bleach that is delivered instead of using salt to create the bleach.

“It tends to be a little bit more cost effective over time when you look at the system replacement,” Van Meter explained. “Salt’s pretty corrosive, so those reactors tend to go a little more regularly than some of the other equipment that we like to put into water treatment plants.”

“That project’s really close to being done,” he said.. “A little bit more programming work is all that’s really needed.”

The work is being completed by the city staff and The Automation Group (TAG).

TAG is also working on a water pumping project to install variable frequency drives on three finished water pumps. They are also installing a backwash pump.

“When we backwash, we are pushing water in reverse through the process,” said Van Meter. “We’re running the filters upside down. To do that we have to pull water from somewhere. In the case of the city’s water treatment plant, it actually pulls the water directly out of the distribution system. That’s when you see some of those really low pressures.”

He said that, based on some initial modeling, those pressures are below 20 PSI, which is the bare minimum for fireflow pressures in Oregon, and “we really like to see a minimum of 40 PSI, so that’s really bare bones minimum.”

Van Meter said he hopes the new backwash pump that will be installed will alleviate some of the really low system pressures. He hopes to get the project completed in the next couple months.

City staff is also currently working on an AWIA Risk and Resilience Assessment and Emergency Response Plan. AWIA stands for America’s Water Infrastructure Act, which was passed into law in October of 2018.

Van Meter cited the case of a water system in Florida that was recently hijacked by an attacker who used remote access to the system to change sodium hydroxide levels.

“That suddenly made this act front and center, especially in our world,” he said. “All anyone’s really talking about right now is how to stop these cyberattacks and threats that we are seeing. It would be really easy following the same pathway for someone to break into most systems. You just need to know where that tunnel is, and the way that we do automation in plants, it’s fairly easy to have outside control.”

“It’s definitely something to be mindful of,” he said.

Van Meter expects that a Risk and Resilience Assessment and Emergency Response Plan will be prepared and Sweet Home’s water system will receive an AWIA certification by the end of this year in an effort to thwart these potential cyberattacks, he said.

Road Improvements

Civil West Engineering is also leading a project design this summer to overlay about a quarter mile of roads in Sweet Home. The plans are going into final review and the project is being split into two phases. The funding will be a combination of local funds and funds from the ODOT Surface Transportation Block Grant program.

“Right now plans are really close. They’re just going through final review,” said Van Meter. “We’re going to start to fix up some of those streets that I know have been problematic,” he said.

The overlays are planned for 13 locations and would include 12,500 lineal feet of paving. And the locations of the overlays will be spread out, according to Van Meter. “They’re kind of all over town,” he said.

Water Main Replacement

The last project that Van Meter discussed before the council was a “Small Diameter Water Main Replacement Program.” He showed a graphic that presented the location of areas that he said had “dangerously low pressure,” or less than 20 PSI, and noted that a lot of 2-inch water mains are clustered at the older end of town. These mains are the ones that he thinks should be targeted in the replacement program.

“A lot of times if it’s a 2-inch water main and it’s old, it actually might have an effective diameter of three quarters of an inch, with all the corrosion and everything that’s built up in there,” Van Meter said.

He said the goal would be to get those small diameter water mains up to a minimum size.

“Six inches would be the bare minimum for fire flows and 8 inches for a dead-end line would be our recommendation,” he said.

Van Meter said his team will do some initial assessments and then develop a three- to five-year plan to replace small water mains throughout town.

“At the same time, we’ll look at things like sewer lines and laterals and other things that may need to be replaced,” he said.

“Hopefully in a period of a few years you start to see some real improvements in terms of both the utilities and the streets throughout town.”.

Speaking on the water main replacement plan, Public Works Director Greg Springman said, “We’re not just throwing pipe in the ground. We’re finishing our model. We’re letting the data tell us where to go, where we have issues, where things need to be replaced. We’re not saying ‘Let’s just fix everything.’ We’re going to get good information and we’re going to know where to go first and how to do it to the best of our ability,” he said.

System Development Charges

The council took further action to continue its move to raise Sweet Home’s system development charges, by unanimously approving an ordinance to adopt an amended SDC ordinance.

SDCs are fees assessed on new development in a community to pay for the new development’s impact on the capacity of infrastructure — roads, water, schools, etc. SDCs are tightly regulated under state law.

The city’s current SDCs amount to approximately $1,800 per single family home, and only pay for water and wastewater infrastructure. Sweet Home’s fees are among the lowest in the state and have not changed since 2005. Since August, 2019, the city has been working to update its SDCs in response to a burst of new residential and other development in Sweet Home.

Councilors also on March 9 unanimously voted to adopt a resolution that sets the formula for calculating how SDCs would be set, and also unanimously voted to pass a resolution adopting an SDC capital projects list. A capital projects list is a required part of SDCs. The list is used to help determine therates, and SDC funding can only be used on projects included in an adopted SDC capital projects list.

Coleman proposed a three-year timeline to get SDCs to a $15,000 rate, instead of a previously proposed five-year plan.

“After seeing how our SDCs stack up next to other cities that are comparable to us, and seeing that Philomath’s is much higher and that Lebanon recently raised theirs to over $17,000, I would be OK with putting a shorter timeline on this $15,000. Just because it’s been so low for so long,” she said.

Trask agreed on the shortened time frame.

“I know it seems like a lot, but it’s not a lot if you compare it to where the people basically across the street from us are,” he said. “I don’t want to have to go through this again in however many years to try to catch up again.”

The council informally voted on the length of the timeline to complete the planned increase in SDCs in order to see what the council consensus was on the matter. The consensus ended up being three years, as Coleman originally suggested, with Coleman, Gerson, and Trask voting for that proposal. Sanchez favored five years, and Mahler wanted four. Gourley abstained from the impromptu vote, expressing that she wasn’t sure how many years to suggest.

Following the consensus, Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen said he would make adjustments to the plan to condense it from five years to three, and then bring it back before council.

“I’m not motivated by what other cities are doing, but I am motivated by the work that has to be done for our community,” said Gourley. “And we’re never going to get where we need to be to have the best infrastructure and to move our community forward [without higher SDCs]. I think our community depends on us to make those decisions.”

In other action, the council voted unanimously to surplus five vehicles that city staff determined had exceeded their useful life to the city.

These include a 2000 Chevy Utility Van, a 2004 Ford Ranger, a 1998 Ford Expedition, and a 2002 Ford Econoline in the Public Works department, and a 2010 Ford Crown Victoria in the Police Department.

Councilors also observed a moment of silence for County Commissioner John Lindsey who died of cancer on Tuesday, March 9. (See page 3).