Public input sought on stormwater plan

Benny Westcott

As the City of Sweet Home works on its stormwater master plan, it has sought public input, first with a Wednesday, April 13, forum at the Sweet Home Senior Center and also with an online link at https://bit.ly/3KSNn52.

“People can indicate any problems they’re having with stormwater; standing water on their property, in their yard, etc.,” Public Works Director Greg Springman said. “Anything that might be information to us, we want to know. We know a lot of the areas that we’re having issues with. The hope is to take information from the public about their properties, and it gives us a cluster of information. We know some of the basics, but adding the public’s point of view gives the engineers a start at looking at all the data from a 35,000-foot view.”

Among the issues already reported are standing water on property – “just because we have a lot of flat land, especially on the eastern side of the city,” according to Springman – and open trenches on Long Street, Airport Road and “pretty much everywhere on the east end.”

“Where there’s open trenches, debris gets in and it grows grass and other types of vegetation that we have to maintain,” Springman said. “That vegetation dies in the summer and it’s a constant maintenance battle, and then it gets washed down further.”

In addition, he said, the city does not have dedicated storm piping systems.

In May 2021, the city council voted to increase the stormwater utility fee from $1 per single-family residential household to $3. The increase helps fund the master plan.

“We want to gather as much information as we can from the community and staff, look at our current system and GIS modeling, and comprehensively bring that all together to a plan that we can utilize in the years to come as development occurs,” Springman said. “We want to look at what our rainfalls are, and then we can model that and see how we exited the stormwater from our community. [The stormwater master plan] also will guide development. When you have a developer that wants to come and put in an apartment complex, we can understand better how to deal with the stormwater to get it off their property, in our system, and then into the public.”

Additionally, he noted, “We can create projects out of this plan that become SDC [system development charge] fundable, so when a developer comes in they would have to fund those projects for stormwater.”

According to Springman, capacity is an issue in the current system.

“When the ground gets saturated and we get a heavy amount of rain in a short period of time, we don’t have the capacity in the current stormwater system to convey water over,” he said. “It’s just impossible. And we’re not the only town that deals with that. I know we could probably use a larger capacity in our storm drain system. On the east end where all the trenches are, at some point you’re going to want to see dedicated storm pipe put underground.”

The stormwater master plan will become of even greater importance when Sweet Home passes the 10,000 population threshold. Sweet Home currently sits at 9,928.

“Any community that has a population of 10,000 or larger, the Department of Environmental Quality expects a little more,” he said. “You fall under different water permit ruling and have to do stormwater monitoring. We’re not quite there, but once we hit that then we have other requirements that we have to meet with the state.”

According to Springman, stormwater issues often come with the territory in small towns.

“We’re a small town trying to get larger. So this is not uncommon for our size. Small towns don’t have a good handle on this at all,” he said.

Additionally, he discussed how the city’s stormwater control has importance outside of Sweet Home.

“Stormwater is not just to manage flooding off your streets, but DEQ looks at it as protecting the Santiam River, the Willamette Valley, the Columbia River and in turn the ocean,” he said.

He said that public works’ street sweeping and leaf program are all required with a stormwater program to keep organics out of waterways.

Springman said that the city is 25% into the creation of the stormwater master plan right now, and that the plan will take a year to develop.

“The main thing I want to see is some of those ideas and projects identified so we can get them in our vision and out in front of us, so as bigger development or industry comes to Sweet Home, we can keep all of that in mind as they construct their facilities in our town,” he said. “My goal is to have an identified direction that can be used not only for operations and public works, but also for planning and development as our community gets bigger.”

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