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October 1, 2023

Water treatment plant plans approved by Planning Commission

The Ashland Planning Commission conducted a site visit to a city-owned site that the Public Works Department is proposing a new water treatment plant be built Monday. Bob Palermini photo
April 27, 2023

Site preparation expected to require hundreds of truck trips on Granite Street

By Craig Breon for Ashland.news

After a site visit on Monday afternoon, the Ashland Planning Commission held a public hearing Tuesday night where they unanimously approved the land use and design measures needed for a new water treatment plant for the city. Final approval by the commission is expected in two to four weeks when they make necessary legal findings. At that point, the city can arrange financing for the $60 million project with the state and federal governments, which will have to be approved by the City Council.

The new facility is planned on a city-owned, 80-acre parcel at 1111 Granite St., across Ashland Creek from the swimming hole at the south end of Lithia Park. Only 4.5 acres of the parcel will be used for the treatment plant; the remainder will remain in its current state—heavily forested and steeply sloped.

The treatment plant—to be built over three years after financing is secured—will be able to treat 7 million gallons of a day (MGD) of freshwater, with an expansion capability of up to 9 MGD. City Public Works Department staff project this capacity will be adequate to supply Ashland residents and businesses for the next 100 years.

A map in a city staff report shows the location of the planned new water treatment plant just southwest of Lithia Park.

The six Planning Commissioners in attendance heard a 20-minute presentation from staff (see the staff report by clicking here), then asked just a handful of questions and offered no debate before moving to approval. Only five members of the public attended the meeting, and none spoke.

Plans have been in the works for years. The city’s current water treatment plant, built in 1948, sits in the floodplain of Ashland Creek, 1 mile upstream of the new plant’s proposed location. Scott Fleury, Ashland’s Director of Public Works, described the current plant as “essentially floating in Ashland Creek,” thus subject to a high risk of flooding. In addition, the current plant is in a heavily wooded area, representing a wildfire risk, and does not meet current seismic standards. The new plant, by comparison, will be located well above the floodplain, in a relatively open area following some tree removal, and would be built to code, reducing risk from earthquakes.

Talk of a new treatment plant dates from the mid 1990s. In 2012, the City’s Water Master Plan included the need for a new facility. City staff have been working for several years with engineering consultants and state and federal agencies — ranging from The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Once constructed, the new treatment plant will be hardly noticeable to the larger community. The nearest residents along Ashland Creek Drive are 400-500 feet away, over a small ridge. Hikers along the Wonder Trail will meander just outside the facility’s fencing for a short distance. The most prominent design element will be at 48-foot high Clearwell Water Reservoir capable of containing 850,000 gallons, where treated water will receive final clorinization before moving on to the water distribution system.

The Ashland Planning Commission conducted a site visit to a city-owned site that the Public Works Department is proposing a new water treatment plant be built Monday. Bob Palermini photo

By comparison, construction impacts for the treatment plant will be quite noticeable for some time along Ashland Creek and Granite Street. Because the treatment plant site has been used for many years as a dumping ground for unengineered fill, that soil and rock will be trucked away before a proper building pad can be laid. At the site visit on Monday, one Planning Commissioner did a back-of-the-envelope estimate that removing this fill may require up to 1,000 truck trips along Granite Street. Constructing the new facility will only add to the number of truck trips.

At the hearing, Commissioner Doug Knauer noted that this level of traffic will inevitably spark upset with some local residents and park users, but that the disturbance could not be avoided. Commission Chair Haywood Norton emphasized the need for good dust control measures, as Granite Street will not be paved any further than it now is.

In addition, the city will rebuild a creek crossing at the intersection of Granite Street and Horn Creek Road in order to withstand a 100-year flooding event. A new culvert with fish passage will be included; all disturbance to riparian vegetation will be mitigated with replanting. The laying of underground power and fiber network communication lines along Granite Street will cause minor disruption.

The city’s current water treatment plant will remain in place. Mechanisms for chemical water treatment will be removed, but city staff will continue to use the site as a staging area for maintenance of Hosler Dam and other activities.

Once the Planning Commission process is complete, and assuming that nobody appeals the approval, the City Council should take up the financing arrangements and impacts to water user rates sometime this summer. Fleury and the Public Works Department would then try to finalize financing negotiations with the EPA by early fall and put the construction contract out to bid by late fall. Construction is projected to start in the spring of 2024 and be finished about 30 months later.

Tuesday was the last meeting for Planning Commissioner Lynn Thompson and Commission Chair Haywood Norton, both of whom have served nine years. Staff and other commissioners thanked Thompson and Norton for their years of service. Commissioner Thompson was further thanked for bringing cookies.

Email Ashland resident, lawyer and former environmental law instructor Craig Breon at ckbtravel@earthlink.net.

Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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