GOLD HILL — Faced with up to $1.8 million in repairs to an ailing sewer system, city officials say plans to rehab, replace or eliminate an antiquated wastewater treatment facility could be delayed two years.
Expected to submit a facilities replacement plan to the Department of Environmental Quality by Feb. 1, City Manager Rick Hohnbaum said this week that a draft plan would likely not happen before June 2016.
The city's waste water treatment plant, built in 1982 and deemed at-risk for catastrophic failure and a potential threat to the Rogue River last year, is part of an interagency agreement to identify a plan to either rehabilitate, replace or do away with the failing plant.
With recent reports by Rogue Valley Sewer Services showing some 25-30 percent of the system inaccessible due to roots, gravel and other obstructions, Hohnbaum said the city was forced to shift gears.
If collection system issues aren't addressed, he said, accurate planning cannot be done for the treatment facility.
"Part of our planning process for the waste water treatment plant involves determining flow. So we've got to get the collection system house in order so that we can figure out what our actual flow is in order to be able to design and figure out cost for our waste water treatment plant," Hohnbaum said.
"We'd rather put the horse in front of the cart instead of the other way around."
On a positive note, Hohnbaum said the risk to the Rogue River has been virtually eliminated with both halves of the two-part plant back online.
Previously the city had only one half of the plant in use, with a second "backup" unit being used to store sludge, a byproduct of the wastewater treatment process.
An unpleasant topic with residents who already pay some of the highest sewer rates in the region, sewer fees could jump as early as Aug. 1.
Gold Hill residents, who currently pay about $38 per household for sewer, could see a rates rise to $47 and $56, Hohnbaum said, in order to cover existing revenue shortfalls for sewer and to pay for anticipated expenses for both the collection system and waste water plant.
Options for replacement of the existing facility, include:
Hohnbaum said the pipeline option would come with an estimated $7.2 million price tag, while costs for other alternatives cannot be determined until the collection system has been repaired.
DEQ senior engineer Jon Gasik said his agency was pleased with progress made by the city to date and agreed that repair of the collection system was a necessary detour.
"We don't want them to make any decisions based on inaccurate information or data. The collection system absolutely has to be fixed," Gasik said.
"A big part of knowing what needs to be done in the treatment plant is to know whether the existing plant is big enough to handle their current and future needs or whether they need to expand the capacity."
With both halves of the existing plant back online, Gasik said, risk to the Rogue River has been drastically reduced.
"They at least have a Plan B with both sides up and running. Now, if something goes wrong at the plant, they're not in a state of emergency. Where it was a year ago, they had one side that had been running for decades and the other side didn't work at all," Gasik said.
"The major risk is no longer there, because if they have a failure on one side, they can switch to the other. They've made some major improvements, and the quality of effluent coming out of there is much better than it's been in a long, long time."
Hohnbaum said City Council would meet Feb. 3 to discuss amendments to the original agreement with state officials.
If rate increases are approved during the coming budget process by July 1, new rates would take effect for August sewer-water bills.
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.