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City to get $30M from feds for plant


March 30, 2022

Sweet Home city staffers showed up to work Monday morning, March 28, to a big surprise: $30,057,061.

That’s the amount the city will receive from the federal government to help its wastewater treatment plant become compliant with the federal Clean Water Act.

“Clean water is a basic human right,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, who announced the move. “With this funding, the city of Sweet Home will be able to bring their wastewater treatment plant into compliance with Clean Water Act standards. I’m proud to help secure funding to enhance water infrastructure and better health in our community.”

According to a statement from DeFazio’s office released Monday, the money will come from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Water State Revolving Fund program, a federal-state partnership that provides communities low-cost financing for a wide range of water quality infrastructure projects.

“The City of Sweet Home is honored and grateful to be selected for this funding, which will benefit our community for generations to come,” said Sweet Home Mayor Greg Mahler. “This funding will ensure we meet the compliance standards that protect our natural resources’ future.”

“I’m shocked,” said city Finance Director Brandon Neish. “We didn’t know this was coming.”

He and Public Works Director Greg Springman said Monday afternoon they were working on clarifying details of the announcement, including where, exactly, the money will come from.

City officials have hosted visits and inquiries from DeFazio’s and the state’s senatorial offices during the crafting of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Biden on Nov. 15 of last year, the two said.

“I think when they introduced the infrastructure bill a little more than a year ago, they approached us,” Springman said. “We had a few different offices approach us. I hadn’t heard anything until today.”

The city has moved forward with designs for the first of two phases of construction for the wastewater plant, the total cost of which is estimated at around $30 million.

A new wastewater treatment plant is necessary because the current plant, built in 1947 and last upgraded in 1994, does not have sufficient capacity to cope with “peak flow” during storms, when leaks in the piping system push stormwater into the wastewater system, overwhelming the plant’s current capacity and forcing the city to discharge untreated wastewater into the South Santiam River. The state Department of Environmental Quality has fined the city for those releases.

Recent leak repairs have limited the peak flow from over 20 million gallons in a day to 12 million gallons, city officials have said. While those repairs have helped significantly, the maximum capacity of the current plant is currently 7 million gallons, meaning human waste continues to be released into the watershed during storms.

The city entered an agreement with the DEQ in January 2001 to address ongoing wastewater system overflows and discharge violations primarily caused by inflow and infiltration (I&I) in the collection system, which is water that enters the sewer system through deteriorating pipes and cross connections with storm drainage.

Sweet Home spent some $15 million during the following 10 years in four phases to repair and replace sewer lines, reducing the amount of I&I entering the system, and city officials began looking at plant upgrades to increase capacity in case of major weather events.

Springman said plans for the new facility are nearly complete and he hopes to see construction start this summer.

“You’re basically talking an aged wastewater plant,” he said. “It’s going to be pretty much brand new.”

The new plant will include technology to remove plastics that didn’t even exist in sewage when the current plant was built and upgraded. It will be able to better handle sludge and will likely be more automated than the current facility.

Springman said a big improvement will be the ability to screen out materials that shouldn’t be going through the plant in the first place.

“There were not a lot of plastics in garbage back then,” he said. “Toilet paper and Q-tips used to be made of paper. Now people flush everything – wrappers, wipes that don’t break down. All that material gets flushed to the treatment plant, and our old plant can’t deal with that.”

The city has planned to fund the new plant with a combination of ratepayer increases, state and federal funding. Tapping into various sources, staff have already secured well over $10 million in outside funding for the upgrades.

“Certainly, the city has been working to raise its own sources of funds,” Neish said. “We didn’t know this was coming. This was a surprise to the city staff this morning. In fact, my first reaction was, ‘Is this real?’”

He said the long-term benefit of the $30 million infusion to the community will be “unimaginable.”

Although money already secured for the plant has to remain within the wastewater program, Neish and Springman said, rate-payers may benefit in faster payoff of debt and, possibly, buy-down of utility rates in the future.

“It opens a number of doors that were not possible before,” Neish said. “It’s not every day a community of this size gets its hands on $37 million,” counting funding already in hand in that total.

“I am extremely grateful.”


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