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Powers Faces Loss of Funding, Steep Fines, as Time Runs Out to Fix Sewage Situation

The city of Powers, Oregon is running out of time to fix their sewage situation. Powers, which has been instructed that they have 60 days from March 28th to make “adequate progress” towards the US Department of Agriculture approved sewage treatment plan, faces potential “de-obligation” of millions of federal dollars marked for the project, forfeiting the federal money if no progress is made.

The Powers City Council met earlier this month to discuss the issue, but was unable to reach a decision on whether to choose a grinder-based wastewater treatment system, unpopular with the council and many residents, or give up the money entirely.

Powers faces a problem familiar to many Oregon towns, where infiltration and inflow water (I&I) that leaks into the system, most often in the form of rain, pushes sewage treatment plants past their capacity. The proposed grinder system, which was determined to be the most cost-effective solution to I&I for Powers, has proven to be controversial, with many residents opposed to installation of grinders on their property. Others voiced their concern of the inevitable rate increase experienced as the city is forced to repay the federal loans allocated for the project. In fact, the grinder proposal was so unpopular that it caused three pro-grinder councilors to be removed from office, replacing them with councilors opposed to the grinder proposal.

The city, instead of focusing on the grinder proposal, has turned its attention towards rehabilitation of the existing, aging gravity-based system. Harry Pierson, a former public works director, was hired by the city to take over the plant, and said that he would be able to turn the plant around to meet the city’s goals. But not everyone is convinced. Engineers note that although the plant may be able to make the proposed efficiency numbers in the winter, there would be no way it could do so in the summer months.

So what’s next for the City of Powers? City Councilor Jim Adamek said that councilors need to meet with the USDA and DEQ soon, noting that time was running out to take action after receiving a letter to the City from the USDA which read: “Absent a decision or mutually agreed upon alternative approach between USDA, ODEQ, and the City of Powers in the next 60 days, Rural Development may issue a formal notice of intent to de-obligate funds unilaterally”

Although measures are being taken to ensure the continued functioning of the City’s current sewage treatment system, and efforts are being made to begin compliance with the USDA’s requirements, it has yet to be seen whether Powers will be able to retain the federal funds, or lose them to noncompliance.

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