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

Mill City addressing problems at aging sewer plant

Mill City is working with DEQ to address potential violations found at its sewer plant during a recent inspection, with little likelihood of civil penalties after the city completes repairs.

The Department of Environmental Quality held an inspection June 9 and sent the city a warning letter identifying multiple issues including:

Sewage pooling on a gravel filter. 

Sewage leaking from pipes.

Daily flows exceeding capacity once in December of 2020 and twice in January of 2022.

Failure to collect flow data since April 30.

A warning letter is an informal notice of noncompliance from DEQ and is intended to bring problems to a city’s attention before initiating the formal enforcement process. 

If a city fails to take action, a pre-enforcement letter would be sent followed by formal enforcement action.

During the July 25 meeting of the Mill City City Council, Public Works Supervisor Russ Foltz said he has already made repairs to the leaking pipes, and has formulated a plan to address the filter. 

Foltz also said the lack of data collection since April was the result of a critical failure of the computer tracking the data, and the time it took to re-install tracking software through the license holder.

Foltz said the potential for excessive flow has already been addressed after his department repaired inflow and infiltration (I&I) leaks in the northern part of the city. 

Foltz said he plans to address I&I problems in the rest of town after the rain returns, as it is difficult to detect leaks during dry weather.

I&I repairs have also helped alleviate capacity problems identified in 2021 that threatened development in Mill City, including multiple planned housing developments. The sewer plant was at 94 percent capacity and, if capacity could not be expanded, the city may have been forced to impose a moratorium on new construction.

Mayor Tim Kirsch said July 25 the city remains far from having to take such action, and officials are coordinating with the North Santiam Sewer Authority on a long-term solution. He said the city is in a tough spot of having to keep a sewer plant running past its 25-year lifespan while a more permanent solution takes shape.

“It’s bale and wire and duct tape for a little while to keep this thing going,” he said.

Kirsch said Mill City is not in the position the City of Sandy found itself in when it was recently fined $500,000 for frequent violations of the Clean Water Act at its sewer plant. Kirsch said DEQ’s warning letter was essentially a request to keep the agency informed as the city addresses the identified problems.

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