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Medford plant might take Gold Hill's 'sludge'

GOLD HILL — An agreement between the cities of Gold Hill and Medford will help protect the Rogue River and aid the smaller of the two cities in dealing with a failing sewage treatment plant.

The Gold Hill City Council voted Monday to authorize public works officials to transport treated bio-solids to the Medford Regional Water Reclamation Facility. The deal is contingent on Medford City Council approval at a noon meeting today.

Gold Hill was put on notice this winter by state officials following an increasing number of violations for contaminants released into the Rogue River by its 30-year-old sewage treatment plant.

While the plant has been cited for violations dating back to 1995, the increasingly high levels of contaminants being discharged prompted state officials to threaten steep fines if long-term solutions were not identified.

City officials have contracted with an engineering firm to determine options at the plant and have entered into agreement with the state to forestall the fines.

As part of that agreement with the state, city officials must return the plant to its original working configuration by September.

Built with a redundant two-sided design, the plant was retrofitted in the 1990s to treat wastewater on one side, instead of two, as a means of storing sewage byproduct dubbed "sludge."

Interim city manager Dale Shaddox said the city was "well ahead of schedule" in taking the necessary steps to return the plant to the required redundant configuration. Shaddox said the agreement with Medford would enable the second half of the plant to be brought back online by late summer.

Cory Crebbin, Medford's public works director, said accepting bio-solids from the city of Gold Hill would barely register an impact on operations at the Medford treatment plant.

"I think they have like 2,000 gallons a day. I don't know how much we're putting into the sludge beds but last year it was around 17.5 million gallons a day," Crebbin said, adding that Medford has a similar agreement with Shady Cove.

"This agreement is virtually identical to the one we have in Shady Cove but I don't think the city of Gold Hill has even a tenth as much as Shady Cove, and Shady Cove is not a significant impact to our operation either."

Shaddox said hauling of bio-solids from Gold Hill to Medford would begin almost immediately if Medford city officials authorize the agreement.

Crebbin said Gold Hill would be billed about $2,000 a year, simply to "pay their part," but added that Medford city officials were eager to assist to protect the Rogue River.

"We have a wastewater treatment plant in order to make sure the Rogue River stays healthy," said Crebbin.

"So, if we can do something that's pretty minor for somebody else, to also help make sure the river stays healthy, it just seems like a good thing to do."

In other news, city officials this week voted to enter into a contract with Rogue Valley Sewer Services to evaluate the city's sewer pipe system.

The survey would determine repair and upgrades needed for the portion of the city sewer system between homes and businesses, and is unrelated to a final decision about whether to rebuild the wastewater treatment plant or contract with an outside agency.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.