Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Sewage pump station plan raises stink in Sellwood

by: David F. Ashton, Daniel J. Hebert, Wastewater Engineering, City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, served as the chief spokesman during the well-attended Sellwood meeting.

For the City of Portland to meet its state-mandated deadline to keep raw sewage from flowing into the Willamette River when it rains, it may be necessary for as many as four homes in Sellwood to be condemned to make way for a new sewage pump station.

That's what about 70 community members learned at the April 9th 'Proposed CSO Pump Station Stakeholder Meeting' held at Sellwood's SMILE Station.

'The meeting is to inform neighbors of this project,' said David Allred, community outreach facilitator, City of Portland, Bureau of Environmental Services (BES), as he started the meeting. 'We'll also talk about other [BES] projects in the area, ask for comments, and listen to concerns.'

Many of those who attended expressed their shock and dismay when they learned that the site would be selected before summer - in June.

A neighbor summarized the concern of many, saying, 'First I heard about it, they were going to move a hedge and a couple of trees. This concerns me, because at the last meeting, there were two potential [pumping station] sites; now there are six under consideration - and there are homes are on some of those potential sites. The first of June is a relatively quick timeline.'

'That's why we are having this meeting,' responded Daniel J. Hebert, P.E. Wastewater Engineering, City of Portland, BES.

Old Portland's sewer system combines rainwater runoff - and sewage - into one pipe. A high flow of the combined liquid during a heavy rainstorm overloads the system, causing it to 'outfall' - overflow -- at various points along the Willamette River.

A 1994 stipulated final order between the City of Portland and State of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality says the number of times the Combined Sewer Outfall (CSO) drains into the Willamette River during a year must be severely limited by 2011.

'This particular project concerns the combined sewage at Outfall 27, near the Portland Rowing Club facility,' Hebert said. 'This is a piece of the East Side CSO 'larger reduction' scheme.'

Before Hebert came to work at BES, he said the bureau had considered many different configurations. 'For a long time, their planning was focused on finding a place in the basin make an in-line storage facility. That became unfeasible.'

'But, there is an old sewer line under S.E. Harney Street, Built in 1921, called the 'Lents Trunk Sewer',' Hebert told the group. We'll rehabilitate it to serve as an in-line storage facility that will hold 2.5 million gallons of wastewater storage. If an inspection shows we have to line the pipe [to keep it from leaking], it will hold a little less than that.' Then, over time, Hebert explained, after rainstorms, the Lents line will be pumped out and into the Big Pipe system, for flow to the treatment plant on Columbia Boulevard near the Columbia River.

'The Lents Sewer was decided to be the best solution in July, 2007. After that, we had to select a firm to design the project. We didn't have a lot to say [to the public] before now; the consultants were working on the design of the project,' said Hebert.

Asked why the City waited so long to start planning this project, Hebert explained, 'It was a matter of cash flow and scheduling of projects. This [the 'Big Pipe' CSO reduction program] is a $1.4 billion project. The City started on the west side - it's now completed, and in operation. Projects are managed in sequence.'

A neighbor quizzed Hebert, asking how much flexibility was built into the project's timeline. 'It's a big project; we have 30 months worth of construction time ahead of us. We don't have much 'float time' in the schedule.'

Pump station site criteria

The main criteria for pump station site selection, explained Hebert, are that it be as close to the lower end of the Lents Trunk - and as close to the existing pipe - as possible. Because the Lents Trunk is buried up to 70 feet below the ground, the further the pump station is located from the sewer line, the more costly, difficult, and dangerous it is to build.

'We have to be 50 feet back from the bank of the river. At the rowing club, there are steep grades; and there is a greenway zoning hurdle. Least desirable are the two potential sites that overlay people's houses,' said Hebert.

Patrick D. Fuss, P.E., of West Yost Associates, the lead consulting engineers on the project, stepped up to further delineate site-selection criteria.

'There will be an impact if your home is displaced, or you live next door to it,' Fuss began. There will be delivery trucks for [emergency power generator] fuel, and odor control materials. If you are close by, you'll notice the project is there.'

Part of the criteria for site selection, Fuss explained, include:

· Ease of easement acquisition - it must have an adequate footprint. Different sites will need more or less land - about a half-acre.

· Zoning and land use compliance - and, it must be above the 100-year flood level; about elevation 33'.

· Risks - considering an inflexible and fast schedule, it the plan must be achievable. A site further from the line, requiring tunneling 70 feet below the ground would be more risky, for example.

· Costs - the initial building cost is one consideration. But the farther the pump station is away from the end of the line, the less storage will be available. Larger, more costly pumps would be required.

Comments and questions

The tone of the comments and questions posed to the officials ranged from sincere, to snide, to rude. Clearly, many who attended appeared to be upset by the project. Hebert provided the answers; comments and objections were recorded on a large note pad:

* Could the finished pump station look like a home?

'Yes, a very large home; roughly the same height as a two story house - about 30 to 36 feet high. We want it to fit visually, as well as we can, into the neighborhood.' On the west side, Fanno Creek's pump station is a red brick building with fake chimneys. It is a very attractive building. The City Council mandates that we use eco-roofs. We could blend the roof into the slope [at certain sites].'

* Odor control? What kind of smell is associated with a pump station? Will it smell like Kellogg Lake?

'The station is handling wastewater that contains raw sewage.' The stations are typically 'positive pressure'; they use bio-filters that must be recharged.

* The greenway and zoning concerns are City issues. You're part of City government. It seems that you'd deal with your own ordinances before taking homes.

'The city treats me like an 'evil developer'; no differently. We pay the same fees and must obey the same laws. That is part of the siting process.'

* Will there be sound and vibration when the pumps, or diesel power generators, are running?

'We have to comply with the city's noise ordinance; be below '50 decibels' at the property line. The generators are 'exercised' twice a month for several hours and used only if utility power fails. We are required to have continuous ventilation; we try to design ventilators to be as quiet as possible. We'll also have noise related to the 150 to 200 HP pumps. They can vibrate significantly. We learned about these issues at Fanno Creek. Pumps would run when the Lents Trunk Sewer had water, and would run until it is empty.'

* We've heard about your time limitations. But we have valid concerns about the process; it seems to be moving too quickly. This is a very condensed process for a project that will have a huge impact on the neighborhood.

'I agree with your statement, but we do have a condensed timeframe. My deadlines and concerns are mine, but not yours. We're hoping we can improve the communications process.'

Specific site objections

The officials asked those present to write their preferences, objections, and comments about specific sites on presentation pads in the room. The participants objected, and demanded that 'those with issues be able to talk it out'.

A participant stridently asserted, 'Take the home sites off, now. We must know we're not going to lose our homes. We've had infill; we'll have noise, and we'll have smell to deal with. We don't want to lose homes, too.'

Hebert replied, 'I'd like to leave the homes in the criteria process - to demonstrate that they don't meet our criteria as well as others. A site where we have to displace a resident is much less desirable than one that does not displace residents.'

A member from the condominiums north of Site #1 objected, 'They're proposing taking the southern portion of the property. We're a community under siege by the Sellwood Bridge project. Our north entrance will be shut down by bridge construction; this site would close the south entrance. Even the Fire Bureau had concerns.'

However, Candice McElroy, Portland Rowing Club, objected to Site #2. 'We are a club of 150 members. We thought there was one site; now three [in the area]. We believe Site #4 is the only option.'

Asked if they had preferred sites, Hebert replied, 'Based on qualitative criteria, sites 2 and 3 are least challenging, from an engineering standpoint.'

After the formal meeting, many folks stayed on to share their specific concerns with officials.

Owen Steere, a resident of the 8300 block of S.E. Harney Street, expressed the frustration of many attendees we overheard: 'The idea that they're even considering taking my neighbors' houses is insane; particularly with a short timeline.'

Steere added, 'I realize that they've got to get this thing done. If they've made the mistake of having an overly condensed timeline, I wonder if other aspects of this are also being done in a hasty way - such as the basic project design.'

At the request of those present, Hebert agreed to tentatively meet again with neighbors on Wednesday, May 14th.