$35.9 Million Water Plant a Step Closer

$35.9 Million Water Plant a Step Closer

By Addie Greene

Scott Fleury, Ashland’s deputy Public Works director, briefed councilors on the proposed $35.9-million water treatment plant at the City Council meeting October 1. “ISA will not allow us to move forward without funding certainty,” he said. “We have a $14.8-million loan and $19 million cash on hand.” Additional borrowing will fill the gap, he said.

            Fleury was presenting preliminary plans for the treatment plant, being designed by HDR Engineering, but said each step of the process involves vetting—at 60, 90, and 100% of the planning process. Public Works Director Paula Brown said, “That’s a standard for us—standards for 60, 90, and 100%. We’ll bring it back to you at 60 and 90.”

            “Why can’t we do this work in house?” asked Councilor Dennis Slattery.

            “We don’t have the team,” Brown replied.

            “Final engineering must be coordinated with the Oregon Health Authority” on ozone and sedimentation, before we have a 100% biddable document, Fleury said.

            “Are we doing the best we can from an energy standpoint?” asked Councilor Tonya Graham. “Do you have people on your team whose primary focus is energy saving?”

Pierre Kwan, regional water treatment manager at HDR, said energy documents “are in your packet.” When asked if the project was aiming for silver, gold, or platinum certification, he said, “We don’t want to pay thousands of dollars for certification.” However, he added, “We are doing an energy audit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

            “We are moving from a gravity to a partial gravity system, so the plant will require more pumping,” Fleury said     . The new plant will be below the Crowson reservoir, he explained. By reducing the Crowson (water coverage) zone and increasing the Granite zone, Public Works will be able to mitigate the extra pumping required.

            “We are looking at a long-term investment of 75 to a hundred years which will be good not only for the environment but also for the community,” Kwan said. “Solar heating will reduce our costs.”

            “Are you concerned about the wildlife corridor?” asked Councilor Stefani Seffinger.

            “We’re working with the Forest Service and the DEQ,” Kwan said.

            “Crossing Ashland Creek will require permitting,” Fleury said. “We have existing piping of 2” to 24”, and 8” pipe will be upgraded to 12”. We will replace the underground infrastructure on a life cycle basis,” he said.

            “This is a huge undertaking,” commented Councilor Julie Akins.

            Former Councilor Carol Voisin asked the City Council to delay action on the treatment plant until it has heard from engineer Pieter Smeenk, the whistleblower who questioned the project in February of 2017 and subsequently was fired by the city. Smeenk questioned the awarding of contracts worth more than $35,000 without competitive bidding, choice of two steep and inaccessible sites for the proposed plant, a reduction in water use since the proposed plant was sized in 2012, and availability of water from the TAP system. He also stressed the need to compare upgrading of the old plant with construction of a new one.

            “An updated water master plan is needed; it was supposed to be completed in the summer of 2018 and decisions should wait until the plan is completed,” Voisin said. “According to staff reports, Ashland’s growth in 20 years will increase 5,000-10,000, so let’s begin plans for a new plant in 10 years when there will be more residents to pay for its expense. I request that the council hear in public from the whistleblower. I also request that the final engineering plans for the new water treatment plant be delayed.”

            “The existing plant was built to old standards and can’t be upgraded, can’t be fixed. Trucks have a hard time getting up the road,” Brown replied. “I disagree with Dr. Voisin’s statement. The whistleblower was not working on this project.”

The council also discussed the city administrator’s taking on the city finance director’s job and how to compensate Kelly Madding for that. She thanked council for its suggestion of a 5% raise but pointed out that she is saving the city $203,000 a year in unpaid salary and compensation. She mentioned the fire chief’s resignation and his deputy’s taking on both jobs as another example. “We have staff who have stepped up,” Madding said. “Right now the policy is unclear. I’m not the only one who’s doing extra work.”

            “It’s a slippery slope,” Slattery said, of people taking on two jobs. This will round out your skills as a city administrator,” he told Madding, “but it is not a long-term solution.”

            “It’s not fair to ask someone to do two full-time jobs,” Council Rich Rosenthal objected.  He moved that an out-of-class policy be established for employees in such circumstances. The motion passed unanimously.

            Graham’s motion to explore upgrading to a platinum energy certification and Rosenthal’s motion to go ahead with the project both passed.

The Public Arts Commission presented its six commissioners, who are working with council on a history of Ashland. It will distribute 36” in diameter bronze medallions throughout the city and will work with civic groups and the Parks and Historical Commissions.

Mike Moran and Marjorie Boggess, director of the Jackson County 911 Center, explained the county’s proposed movement from analog to digital for emergency services. The FCC mandated going to narrowband in 2010, they said, which necessitated the movement to digital.

            “It’s tough to get radio coverage in Ashland,” Moran said. “Somebody tried to break into the police station and the officers on duty couldn’t be heard.”

            The Emergency Rapid Communications System is on the ballot in November.

Slattery moved that council sessions be held from 6-9:30. The motion passed unanimously.