The Gardiner Sanitary District (GSD) board, Thursday night, took a big step forward in repairing an intermittent leaky pipe under the Umpqua River. The board voted to apply for $2.4 million in grants to repair the pipe and undertake a rate study.

The pipe repair would end years of sewage spills into the river, the most recent in late September.

The board also appeared to abandon plans to separate from the Reedsport wastewater treatment system and upgrade a facility that once served the International Paper site north of Gardiner.

“Based on our town hall meeting on Nov. 9,” GSD Board Chairwoman Jackie Degman said, “additional pressure has been placed on the district by DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) to go south. New developments have been brought to our attention by our engineer, working with Becky Bryant of the State of Oregon Economic Development Department.”

Bryant brought the funding package to the board.

GSD has hoped to develop the IP facilities and stop using the Reedsport facilities, but the district was unable to get funding for the move.

The board refers to the two options as “going north” and “going south.”

J. Garrett Pallo, of Civil West Engineering Services Inc. is the district’s contract engineer. He told the board the writing was on the wall for improving the system to Reedsport and had written a letter to the board stating that.

“I think the point was the district really needed to face the fact that they couldn’t continue to do nothing, when it came to the river crossing,” Pallo told the board Thursday. “Currently there’s only one option on the table for the district and that is to go south. The north option is attractive but, for many reasons, is not on the table. There are a lot of obstacles in the way and Keith (Andersen from the DEQ) made it very clear for reasons that are obvious and reasons that are beyond their control.”

 The district will also undertake a rate study.

“There were a lot of people who came to the (town hall) that have, frankly, reasonable concerns about their sewer bills,” Pallo said. “The current rate structure in the district is difficult to defend. It’s been around a long time and is one of those things that, if done long enough, it becomes a habit. It really needs to be addressed.”

One apartment-complex owner said she’s paying $60 a month per unit and, currently, she has four units that aren’t being used.

“The district needs to undertake a rate study,” Pallo said, “to develop an equitable and fair rate structure for all customers, both residential and commercial, so that customers are billed based on the amount of water they use.”

The city of Reedsport provides also provides water to the district.

He said people who generate a lot of wastewater should pay more.

“You have the tools available to you to meter your water usage,” Pallo continued. “This is something you should do.”

Andersen, the western region administrator for the DEQ attended the Thursday meeting and gave kudos to the board.

“I really admire you for doing something that I know hasn’t been the board’s first choice,” Andersen said. “This is a fantastic opportunity. I want to acknowledge that you guys have gotten to a place, I think, that’s really going to be good for the district.”

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