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New sewer treatment plant on schedule

Prineville's proposed $7.9 million wastewater treatment facility expansion project comes a step closer to reality with a public hearing on Dec. 11
Prineville's waste water disposal problems are on the way to being solved, and it could be DEQ funding that makes it possible.
   For some time, city officials and consultants have been working on expanding the city's waste water treatment capabilities. After completing a comprehensive study, a number of possible solutions were devised. The price tag for these ranged from an estimated $8.1 million to more than $10 million.
   In 1990, the updated facilities plan projected growth for the community to be flat. Now, ten years later, growth has put Prineville at about where the 1990 plan had predicted the city would be in 2010. Even if that accelerated rate of growth slowed to a halt, the present sewer system is handling all it can.
   Bob Vivian of the consulting firm hired by the city to develop a new facilities plan, computed that taking care of the treatment needs for the next 20 years would call for about 73 acres of additional ponds or slightly more than 330 acres of irrigated fields to dispose of the treated water. His first suggestion is to build a new treatment plant at a site south of the fairgrounds.
   That property is owned by developer Bobby Kennedy and is zoned for residential use. Purchasing that site, if it were to come available, and building the system of settling ponds would cost about $8.1 million.
   Building on the second proposed site, adjacent to the present treatment plant, would cost slightly less, $7.9 million.
   The third suggestion was to build the new treatment plant in two phases. It would cost about $4.7 million to build phase one next to the present site, Vivian said. "In the long term, however, it would cost a lot more to build the second phase because of increases in construction costs."
   A committee made up of city officials studied all options and recommended the $7.9 million plant. Taking their recommendations, the city optioned the Williams property, approximately 400 acres north of the present treatment plant, on the same side of the river. Purchasing that property is one of five issues that remain to be dealt with before construction can begin.
   Because the city will use state and federal funds for the project, an environmental review (ER) is necessary to meet federal NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) requirements. This means documenting all the alternatives considered, the environmental consequences of the preferred alternative, and recording any mitigation that might be necessary.
   Included in this process, members of the public must be given an opportunity to testify and have their comments considered. To start the process, the city council has scheduled a hearing to be held Dec. 11 at city hall. Until the NEPA requirements are completed, the city's final plan cannot be adopted.
   Another issue yet to be resolved is getting the necessary permits from the county. The preferred alternative is outside the existing city limits.
   The 2001 state Legislature passed new statutes relating to utility facility siting. SB212 focuses on land application of reclaimed water (see story on page 2). Crook County is in the process of updating its zoning ordinance to comply with these statutes. This means the city will have to apply for a permit for the application of effluent on farmland as proposed in the preferred alternative.
   Clay Moorhead, the consultant hired by the city and county to facilitate federal flood mitigation funding following the 1998 flooding of Prineville, explained that two separate county land use permits would be needed. One is basically an irrigation permit, he said, which would look at the continued livestock production on land irrigated by the treated waste waster. The other would be the actual construction permit.
   County Planning Director Bill Zelenka, Moorhead explained, has said that the application of wastewater on farmland is considered to be an accepted framing practice. That permit can be approved through the county's administrative planning process. The construction permit will require a conditional use permit and call for a public hearing before the county planning commission.
   Moorhead's part in the proposed treatment facility project is with funding. It has been estimated that the cost will be $7.9 million, but without a final engineering study, he warns that figure is only an estimate. "It could be more, it could be less."
   The state is now waiting for its allocation of funding from the Environmental Protection Agency to fund the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF). It is expected that Oregon will receive about $40 million in that program.
   "If Oregon received the entire amount of funding requested," Moorhead said, "DEQ staff have indicated that prineville's request would be a high priority and the city would be eligible for the maximum loan of around $7 million."
   Moorhead explained that DEQ has agreed to a multi-year funding arrangement with the city to meet wastewater improvement needs. This practice has been used in the past in other communities facing similar wastewater treatment problems and in similar financial situations.
   The SRF money would be in the form of a low interest loan. The current rate for SRF loans is about four percent. One benefit of that type of loan, Moorhouse added, is that as the loan is repaid and the principal is reduced, the interest on the remaining balance would decrease.
   Paying back that loan, however, will probably mean an increase in city sewer rates. As part of the loan application, the city must identify revenue sources to repay the loan. A financial advisor has been hired by the city to review the rate structure and to make recommendations on a rate system that will allow the city to generate sufficient revenues. A report is scheduled to be presented to the city council early in the new year.
   A source of about $500,000 for the project is also available from grants earmarked to assist in mitigating flood impacts. The process of identifying how to best make improvements to the waste water treatment facility has begun, Moorhead said, and the effort will be coordinated with state and federal agencies as part of the facility plan.
   The city's waste water treatment expansion project is on schedule, according to all the officials, and construction could begin as early as next summer and be online 18 to 24 months after that..