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

No moratorium as Mill City waits for sewer solution

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

One year ago, the Mill City Council was told it may need to issue a moratorium on new construction unless the city expanded its sewer plant, which was near full capacity.

A moratorium has not been imposed and officials are optimistic they won’t need one, but the possibility is not yet off the table as the city works toward a sewer capacity solution.

“As soon as somebody submits a big [building] project, we’re really going to have to scrutinize everything,” said Mayor Tim Kirsch. “…At this time, there is no moratorium.”

Kirsch spoke to The Canyon Weekly Feb. 28 as the city makes plans to purchase around 32 acres of property for a new drainfield attached to the plant. A list of potential properties has been identified and soil tests scheduled for March and May will help confirm which lots are suitable for the project.

The city has yet to secure funds for property acquisition and is searching for opportunities with help from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and other state agencies. The purchase and excavation of the 32 acres is expected to cost several million dollars, and the total cost of expansion is estimated as high as $7.5 million.

The city learned its sewer plant was at 94 percent capacity in September of 2021 and an initial plan for short-term expansion was rejected by DEQ. In February of 2022, the council was advised by city staff they may need to issue a moratorium on new construction if a long-term solution was not implemented in time for planned projects such as low-income housing developments.

Kirsch said Feb. 28 such developments are far from breaking ground, so the council will not need to seriously consider a moratorium soon. He also said sewer expansion could be far off, and the council may have to wait months or even another year before finalizing a plan given the many unknowns in the process. 

Kirsch added, if a moratorium becomes likely, the city will keep the public informed so developers have a healthy heads-up.

“I would hate for somebody to find out at the last minute,” he said.

Kirsch said the city has engaged in small steps to improve the sewer system, such as recently repairing leaks in the northeast side of town. He said this will reduce the amount of water infiltrating the system and place a lighter burden on the plant.

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