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Fix to Ashland wastewater plant moves ahead

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Kalea Kathol at the wastewater treatment plant Tuesday in Ashland.

Ashland is taking construction bids for structural changes to its wastewater treatment plant designed to bring wastewater outflow within Department of Environmental Quality standards after years of noncompliance.

DEQ changed its standards in 2008 for effluent outflow into creeks. When the standards changed, Ashland’s treatment plant was deemed out of compliance.

Just outside Ashland’s wastewater treatment plant on Oak Street, senior project manager Kaylea Kathol walked Tuesday through tall grass and wildflowers as she pointed out where the plant’s effluent pipe extends into Ashland Creek.

The pipe releases treated wastewater, formally called effluent, into the creek. At this spot in the creek, the water is tepid and the flow of water is slow.

Effluent, being so recently treated, is warmer than the creek’s natural temperature. The new piping — 36-inch PVC pipe and 30-inch HPDE pressure pipe — will be underground, preserving a popular walking trail around Ashland Creek that leads to a small pond. The new pipe will release into Bear Creek instead.

The two creeks merge a five-minute walk away from where the current pipe releases. Kathol explained why the change in the pipe’s release location will bring the plant into DEQ compliance.

“We like this spot because there’s a natural bedrock there, and the flow is stronger,” Kathol said.

The moss-covered rock just below the water’s surface creates turbulence that makes it easier for the effluent to mix into the creek water.

Kathol pointed out a shading project that is dovetailing with the relocation of the pipe, an array of young trees across from what Kathol said was the ignition point for the Almeda fire.

“This was the point of ignition. We’re doing shading right down there, we’re doing shading on many parts of this creek,” she said. “The fire opened up a lot of opportunities for restoration.”

The area previously was overrun with blackberries and filled by old trees. The new trees, a variety of native species that include fast-growing cottonwoods, will provide shade for the creek as they grow, easing the process of cooling effluent.

Shading is another method for bringing the treatment plant back into compliance. Kathol calls the process a thermodynamics puzzle.

“We use a model called Shade-a-lator, which gives us a value of how much sun is offset by the shade; it’s a value in kilocalories per day. Each kilocalorie offsets a kilocalorie we put in,” she said.

Even with both of these measures, the city is studying releasing more water from Reeder Reservoir into Ashland Creek to further cool the water.

The city has been advised that, due to supply-chain problems, the construction project for relocating the pipe is expected to take 17 months.

The project was brought before Ashland City Council for approval last week, because its completion hinges on raising and modifying a previous loan through DEQ.

The loan was approved for $2.5 million. Public Works Director Scott Fluery asked to raise the loan an additional $1 million for the construction phase of the project.

Fluery stated the language of the loan specified funding the engineering and exploration phase of the project. Now that Public Works is ready to accept bids from contractors, that language precludes them from using the loan money to pay for the construction phase of the project.

Council members Shaun Moran and Gina Duquenne responded with concern about how much the project would cost, both in what was being asked for in the current meeting and what may be asked for later, and how this might later affect ratepayers and the city budget.

Fluery said he was confident the loan from DEQ, combined with the currently strong fund of the Ashland wastewater plant, would cover the entirety of the project. Fluery said that if the council did not approve raising the loan and changing the language to support construction, treatment plant staff would have to reapply for the permits they have obtained from DEQ and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Fluery added that the amount needed to complete the project is as yet undetermined, but that if the project is not completed this year, Ashland could soon incur fines from DEQ.

Kathol said the permits take a year and a half to obtain, and the permit that has already been granted specifies the plant must be in compliance with DEQ standards by March of 2023.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Kalea Kathol at the watsewater treatment plant in Ashland Tuesday.

Councilor Paula Hyatt asked whether the project would be funded without raising rates, using taxpayer money, or relying on anything but the loan and the wastewater plant’s own revenue, and Fluery said yes.

Councilors Hyatt, Tonya Graham and Stefani Seffinger voiced support for the project because it would bring the city into compliance with DEQ standards and the project would allow Ashland to be good stewards of its streams.

Mayor Julie Akins referred to Ashland’s wastewater as “a long and tattered tale.”

“We’ve had years and years of noncompliance. Do you feel with absolute confidence,” Akins asked, “that this going to be enough, this relocation of the outfall to meet DEQ standards?”

Fluery expressed confidence that the shading program combined with the relocation of the pipe and the possibility of releasing water from Reeder Reservoir would bring the plant into compliance.

Graham, Hyatt and Seffinger supported Councilor Steven Jensen’s motion to move forward on the project, while Duquenne and Moran did not.

The approval allows negotiations to continue with construction firms and planning the project at the treatment plant.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.