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

NSSA drafts ownership, operating plan

The North Santiam Sewer Authority (NSSA) is drafting language to define ownership, operations and use of a proposed regional sewer plant. A finalized document expected in May.

During the March 4 meeting of the NSSA Board, representatives of member cities discussed a proposed intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between the cities and NSSA.

Councils of the member cities – Mill City, Gates, Detroit and Idanha – have since discussed the matter and are expected to continue developing input on the proposal in coming meetings.

Laura Conroy, a spokesperson for NSSA, told The Canyon Weekly that Marion County has requested the IGA be finalized by the end of May. The county is overseeing development of the plant. Ownership and operational agreements for the facility are necessary to move forward.

During the March 4 meeting, Mill City Mayor and NSSA Board Chair Tim Kirsch said cities should not feel pressured to approve the IGA but should take time for due diligence.

“We’re not pushing it,” Kirsch said.  “We want to definitely keep it moving forward though at as good a pace as we can.”

NSSA was first formed in 2020 to oversee development of a regional sewer system that would serve residents and businesses in the member cities.

Phase I, connecting Mill City and Gates, is under way through a $50 million pandemic relief grant. It is expected to be completed by 2027. Phase II, connecting Detroit and Idanha, is dependent on more than $50 million in additional funding. The goal is for completion by 2028.

While NSSA was initially expected to own and operate the plant, that became unclear when development was split into two phases. 

Because Phase I does not directly impact Detroit and Idanha, the NSSA board discussed whether or not these cities should have direct input over policy and operations prior to Phase II.

If not all member cities had input over operations, it would not make sense for NSSA to own the system, the board concluded. It determined Mill City should own the plant, as the city already has the funding and infrastructure to own and operate the existing system, and the new system would be in Mill City.

The NSSA board discussed contracting with Marion County for plant operations, as the county has greater access to resources and could reduce expenses through economies of scale.

The proposed IGA would account for the layers of ownership and operations by defining member cities based on their roles in relation to the system.

Under language discussed March 4, all cities would be general members and share the same rights to approve rules and regulations for the system, including how rates are set. While they would not have direct control over the specific rates, they could review rate proposals and provide direct feedback.

Mill City would additionally be classified as the system’s owner and would be responsible for setting rates according to policies approved by general members. The city would also be responsible for complying with the regulatory requirements of operating the system, and for developing a capital improvement plan to maintain and upgrade the system.

Gates is a “user” class and would own the collection system that connects Gates to the plant. It would notify Mill City of new hookups or changes in users. Gates would collect payment from users for plant operations.

Other provisions in the IGA included processes for how member cities could withdraw from NSSA. Additional provisions related to operations were pending as the system remains in development. 

Board members were supportive of the proposed language and said they do not envision the proposal will have difficulty before their respective councils. They said they will still take time to find answers for council questions and to come back to the board with any proposed changes.

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