News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

MC growth threatened by sewer capacity

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

A development boom in Mill City could be stalled after officials learned the city’s sewer plant is nearing maximum capacity and expansion could cost several million dollars and take multiple years.

A study conducted last year by the North Santiam Sewer Authority (NSSA) revealed the plant was at 94% capacity, allowing for roughly 40 to 50 new residential hookups before it posed too much of a pollution risk to the local aquifer.

However, 129 units of low-income housing are expected to be constructed starting this fall, while an additional 175 residential units and 10 to 20 commercial units are either anticipated or are in development for the coming years.

City officials are working with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to implement a solution that would avoid a slowdown in development and preserve the water quality of the North Santiam River. The city has proposed short-term improvements that could cost around 

$2.4 million, however, DEQ rejected th plan after determining pollution risks were too high. It proposed an alternative that could cost as much as $7.5 million.

As of the council’s meeting Tuesday night, officials were still exploring options.

Regional plant still pending

The need for expansion was called to the city’s attention in September 2021, as part of efforts by NSSA to develop a sewer system plan capable of serving Mill City, Gates, Detroit and Idanha. 

Phase I of the two-phased plan includes Mill City and is expected to be completed in the next five to seven years.

While analyzing Mill City’s current system, engineers learned of the pressing need for sewer system expansion. Keller Associates advised that improvements to the filter bed and drainage field at the plant could provide short-term expansion, but would also represent “sunk costs” because of the higher efficiency and effectiveness of the proposed regional plant. They did not advise against expansion, but noted the time and expense of regulatory approval alone may make temporary expansion impractical.

Better than waiting

The city proceeded with a proposal to DEQ that would include adding a temporary prefabricated plant to run in parallel with the existing plant, and use a backup drainage field to support the temporary unit until a dedicated field can be constructed next year, in addition to other system improvements. 

The proposal would cost an estimated $2.4 million, with $200,000 from the city, $1 million from an American Rescue Plan Act grant through Marion County, and the remaining $1.2 million from sources to be determined, possibly state funds for housing programs or public works.

In rejecting that plan, DEQ said the city could not use the backup drainage field full-time because it is intended only to help the plant handle high-flow events. It also said a dedicated drainage field for the temporary unit would need to be around 32 acres and far enough from the North Santiam River to reduce pollution risks.

The DEQ’s proposed version would increase the costs to around $7.5 million, in addition to the added difficulty of finding and acquiring a parcel that large. While the city has not committed to this plan, they have started meeting with local landowners to discuss options.

City Planning Consultant Dave Kinney said, in the interest of not duplicating efforts, the city is exploring the possibility of acquiring land for a drainage field that could then be used for the NSSA regional plant when the time comes. 

He said he is looking into whether NSSA funds, which currently sit at around $50 million out of the $100 million estimated for the regional system, could be used to help purchase the property.

Urgent need for a plan

Whether or not officials find a compatible solution, they will need to act fast to avoid a delay in development. 

A 75-unit low-income housing complex by the Marion County Housing Authority is expected to break ground this September, while Home First Development expects to finish 54 units of low-income housing by next year.

City Recorder Stacie Cook has advised officials that, if a short-term solution is not implemented, the city may need to put development on hold.

“If we are unable to resolve the sewer issues, all new construction which requires sewer mains will cease and, at worst, there will come a point when the city will need to issue a moratorium on all building,” she said in a Feb. 17 memo to the council. “We are not at either point yet.”

When asked what has contributed to the development boom, Kinney said it was partly the result of wildfire recovery, but also the result of inflated real estate prices in Portland and elsewhere that make areas like Mill City appealing to price-conscious developers.

Previous Article

Help available for wildfire insurance issues

Next Article

Canyon Cannabis held up by OLCC

You might be interested in …

KYAC brings back concert series this month

Musicians from throughout the country will soon flock to Mill City for the return of the annual KYAC Concert Series, which has been on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic and 2020 wildfires. The first […]

Thunder Ridge performs in Mill City

Traditional bluegrass group Thunder Ridge will perform Oct. 22 at as part of the KYAC concert series.  Thunder Ridge is a high energy, traditional bluegrass band based in Portland. They started out as a “thrown-together” […]