Negotiations continue between Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality and the Gardiner Sanitary District (GSD) board on the replacement of a failing pipe under the Umpqua River. That pipe, reportedly, last failed on Sept. 27, when it dumped 40,000 gallons of raw sewage into the river.
“We expect to be in contact with the board to discuss what our steps are,” Keith Andersen, the western region administrator, said. “We have a Mutual Agreement and Order (MAO) and we’re trying to finalize a new schedule for the path forward and we have not completed that task yet.”
The negotiations for replacing that pipe have been going on since 2004, when a 21,000 gallon spill occurred.
In both of those instances, and many others, the pipe was simply patched by divers and no pipe replacement has happened, despite numerous letters and notifications.
Andersen still could not give the deadline that continued use of the pipe would result in enforcement action by the state.
“We haven’t set a timeline because our path forward hasn’t been completely charted,” he said. “We’ve had conversations that they’ve requested from us … a document, which is something that we presented at that town hall related to our perception of the options that were available and why we felt the ‘replace-the-pipeline’ option was the way to go. We’re still there. We still believe that opportunity will present itself to firm up the timeline, get them on a plan and, the expectation that we have is, they will move forward in a timely fashion to address the issues associated with the leaky pipe that could fail at any point.”
Andersen has attended GSD board meetings at least three times since June, including attending an open house in Gardiner Oct. 9.
But, Andersen admits, they haven’t communicated with the board since that meeting.
The district has been hoping to switch wastewater service from the city of Reedsport’s treatment plant to a treatment lagoon on the old International Paper site, but is unable to get financing, or the blessing of Douglas County or the state to make that move.
Moving to the IP lagoon would mean the pipe under the Umpqua would no longer be necessary.
The pipe has failed many times since 2004. There were two pipe failures in 2006, at least three in 2010, and another in 2012. An August, 2010, a spill dumped 100,000 gallons of raw sewage into the river.
Currently, the pipe is being used, after the October patch jobs.
Andersen repeated they believe a complete pipe failure is imminent.
“We would like to be ahead of the curve on the pipe failure,” he said. “That’s why we entered into an agreement, originally, to try to move this forward. It has been on hiatus for a period of time … their proposed solution was not acceptable to the county. The county didn’t want the associated liability with what might happen if the sanitary district entered into an agreement with IP. That IP agreement included some things that weren’t only associated with the lagoon system and the wastewater treatment plant.”
The agreement may have included two landfills at the IP site. Andersen said he hadn’t seen the agreement.
“Potentially, if Gardiner Sanitary District were to dissolve, or fail to do its part of the bargain, the county didn’t want to be left holding the bag on the landfills and the potential liability associated with those,” Andersen said.
GSD and the city of Reedsport have also been at odds over how much money is owed to whom, which the DEQ has not gotten involved with.
The big questions are whether GSD can get financing to switch to the IP; something that appears very unlikely since the county won’t sign off on a financing plan, whether GSD will abandon that plan and continue its connection with Reedsport and how much will be paid to either entity.
A lawsuit has been filed by GSD to clarify contract language. That clarification may determine which entity owes which an amount of money. Both the city council and district board have held separate executive sessions on the issue.
Andersen says they’re waiting for GSD’s decision on which treatment facility to use and how soon that pipe can be replaced, if necessary.
“We’re working on getting to that agreement,” Andersen said. “We anticipate, if not before, at the November district board meeting to have that conversation.
The board’s next meeting on Nov. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Gardiner fire hall.
Andersen said they expect GSD to move directly to the issue of replacement of the pipe.
“Our work with Gardiner Sanitary District is not, necessarily, reliant on the results of that lawsuit, he said. “We have an expectation that they’re going to perform under the agreement they signed. If they’re not able to perform then it’s possible we’ll realign the schedule on that. There’s a point … I said it in the meeting and I’ll say it to you … we do not have infinite patience available and we continue to get indications that it is a very urgent issue. Our expectation is that, independent of what their litigation situation is, we’re going to have a conversation about what the Gardiner Sanitary District has a responsibility to do, which is resolving the problem associated with that leaky pipe.”