|Jul 31, 2010 --
A Big, Messy Problem
For years, Becky Hampton and the other 900 residents of Miles Crossing had to live with failing septic systems. The small, rural community had no sewer system and, worse yet, much of the community is located on low-lying, wet ground. The waste simply had nowhere to go.
Hampton’s family couldn’t use the back yard for nearly two decades. “It was a cesspool,” she explained. “We’re on the low ground, so we got everybody’s runoff.”
According to another resident, Tom Tetlow, “There’d be soap suds and worse in the ditch. It was a big problem.”
To fix it, each resident would have had to install an expensive new septic system at about $25,000 each. Yet, this would have been a temporary solution at best, due to the topography, soils and high water table. New septic systems would fail eventually, as did the old ones.
Leadership from Local Residents
“We’d been talking about sewer systems here since the ‘70’s,” said Tetlow.
The problem was getting such a large project done without the staff and resources of a larger community. In the late 1990’s Tetlow, Hampton and a number of other residents got together to see what they could do. It took a few years of coordination, and Tetlow, himself, had to make countless visits to neighbors to marshal support and involvement. In addition, they needed to cross a number of hurdles, such as establishing an urban growth boundary and re-zoning the area, just to establish a sewer district.
In 1999, the Miles Crossing Sanitary Sewer District was formed. On a volunteer basis, members of the sewer board worked with funding, permitting and regulatory agencies to plan a sewer system for the community. A self-employed mechanic who controls his own schedule, it was often Tetlow who coordinated with federal, state and county representatives. A true champion of the effort, he also worked one-on-one with residents to address their concerns with project installation and acquire easements for the sewer line.
“If you don’t have someone as involved as Tom has been, it doesn’t happen,” Randy Trevillian, the project overseer.
Clean and Green Technology
The board decided on a state-of-the-art vacuum sewer system that saves energy by reducing the need for pumps. The vacuum technology collects waste from Miles Crossing and sends it 9,500 feet across Youngs Bay to the City of Astoria for processing. The system is also low-maintenance and will save money in the long run. Through an operational agreement, the Youngs River Lewis and Clark Water District will be able to operate the system with minimal staff time.
Construction was made possible with $8,145,000 in Water and Waste Disposal Loans and Grants from the USDA Rural Development, a federal agency that funds essential community facilities, economic development and rural housing programs in small communities and rural areas.
The project also received an Oregon Community Development Block Grant for engineering design.
In addition, local homeowners began paying into the project in 2000. Initially, homeowners paid $20 per month. In 2005, after the sewer project received state approval, the contribution was increased to $44 per month. By the time the system was completed in 2010, each homeowner had invested $5,000, which fully covered their costs for hooking into the new system.
Miles Crossing Moves Forward
The Miles Crossing Vacuum Sewer System went online in December of 2009. To date, about 375 failing septic systems have been decommissioned.
The community now also has better access to building permits and loans, which they simply could not get while the sewage problem existed. In fact, Lewis and Clark Consolidated Schools has to replace their 90-year-old elementary school with new construction. Other facilities and local businesses will also have the chance to upgrade.
However, as Tom Tetlow explains, “We didn’t build it for development; we built it to fix a problem.”
Now, when the soil is saturated, raw sewage is sent offsite, instead of seeping into local ditches, yards and wetlands, as well as the adjacent Youngs Bay and Lewis and Clark River.
“We know it’s gonna smell a lot better,” said Trevillian.