A new wastewater treatment process could open the doors to new business in areas south of Harbor that are not currently served by the Harbor Sanitation District (HSD).
David Scott, a former Port of Brookings Harbor manager, said his son told him about a company that makes sewage treatment facilities for municipalities across the United States that are less expensive, have a long life expectancy, are environmentally friendly and modern.
“Then we got a little bit interested,” Scott said with a laugh.
The Harbor man, a self-described problem-solver, said he became interested in the technology because his family owns property south of Harbor that can’t be developed because sewer services don’t extend that far.
The district currently includes the bulk of Harbor to Holly Lane to the west and northeast to Benham Lane.
“I was really shocked,” Scott told the HSD board Tuesday of his research into the Magellan firm.
“I asked, ‘Based on the plants in operation, what does it cost to run these?’ It costs about 30 percent less than what we are paying for (treatment in) Brookings. I was pleasantly surprised at what we found out.”
His research funneled him to the Roanoke, Va., firm that manufactures “packaged” treatment facilities whose plastic, steel encased components have a longer life and are less expensive to make than traditional steel, concrete and fiberglass systems, Scott said. Additionally, there is little on-site prep; the systems are transported to the area via truck.
Magellan plants use gravity, rather than pumps, to transport wastewater to a treatment facility — another cost-saving measure. Currently, the district transports its used water to Brookings for treatment at the city plant at the end of Wharf Street.
HSD users pay for that treatment and, as do others in the Brookings Sanitation District, debt owed for recent improvements to the plant and the new costs — about $600,000 — to pay for stabilizing the hill on which the plant sits.
The contract between HSD and the city of Brookings is in discussions and is about two years overdue.
Scott presented the idea as a possible pilot project for the area south of Harbor. It has yet to be determined who would manage such a facility or who would use it.
One scenario could be that HSD users begin diverting their wastewater to the new facility to save money by not having it transported for treatment in Brookings. It could also be possible that the district would embrace the technology and replace all its existing facilities with the Magellan plants.
Harbor produces about 300,000 gallons of wastewater a day, and last year paid about $440,000 to have the Brookings plant treat that material. With one Magellan plant treating up to 250,000 gallons of wastewater a day, the community could save $311,000 in treatment costs alone, Scott said.
The cost to treat wastewater in Harbor would then cost .137 cents a gallon, compared to .46 to .49 cents a gallon to transport and treat it in Brookings, Scott said.
If costs are that inexpensive, it could encourage development on the vast tracts of empty land south of Harbor, proponents contend.
“The problem is that, when anyone who wants to develop on an outlying parcel, they’re told the pump stations are at capacity,” Scott said. “Business here; it’s in a death spiral. If you keep increasing costs, you will drive more people out of town. That’s not what anyone wants.”
Scott also said the Magellan plant is more efficient than the one in Brookings, and is capable of reducing “biochemical oxygen demands” and “chemical oxygen demands,” — BOD and COD — figures, which correlate to pollution levels.
The Magellan plant is said to bring those figures to 5; Brookings’ plant has a permit that allows BOD and COD levels of 30 in the winter and 15 to 20 in the summer, Scott said.
There are a few unknowns, including how to pay for the plant, although County Commissioner David Itzen said he believes state grant funds might be available. The Department of Environmental Quality also must approve the disposal method of the effluent, which could flow into Johnson Creek along Oceanside Drive or sprayed onto vacant land, Scott said.
Individual hookup to the system would cost $4,000 to $5,000, compared about $10,000 for a septic system. If HSD pursues the opportunity, those interested in hooking into the system would have to annex into the sanitation district, said board member George Rhodes.
“The great thing about it is, it’s not cost-prohibitive,” he said. “It’s an efficient system, it could provide services in case of a tsunami — a lot of factors have to be considered.”
It already has supporters.
“I am willing, if HSD wants to expand, to give you — to deed you — land to put a plant and office out of the tsunami zone for a trade in hookups,” said L.C. Ashcraft, a Redding resident who has owned land in Harbor since the 1960s and is frustrated he can’t develop it due to wastewater restrictions. “That’s a fair trade, I think. If we could get just a little bit of growth … that’s better than sitting here doing nothing.”
One plant, at a cost of $1.15 million, would need a 5,000-square-foot parcel of land. Each plant could accommodate up to 250,000 gallons a day. And they would be underground to address the “three s’s” of wastewater treatment challenges: sight, smell and sound, Scott said.
“Everyone I talked to said it worked exceedingly well,” he added of discussions he had with users in Montana, California and Texas.
Paul Simon, owner of Oceanview Mobile Estates, said he’s frustrated with the rising costs of sewer treatment to his tenants, many of whom are on fixed incomes.
“When I see these huge prices start rivaling my mortgage, there’s something wrong,” he said.
He owns another park in the Rogue Valley that, in 2002, experienced a $2 increase to $11.99. Ten years later, it increased another $2. Here, however, Simon said the cost has gone up $40 since 2000, for a total cost of $58 a month per connection.
Frank Dailey, owner of Sunset View Park, said he passes sewer costs on to his 74 residents through their rent.
“Twenty-nine percent is an exorbitant amount for a business to absorb,” he said of recent hikes. “It really creates a hardship. I haven’t found anyone who has higher costs per homesite than you do here.
“I have people on fixed incomes, and $13 — $13 to them is huge. You might as well say $130. They’re wondering where they’re going to come up with this. This far exceeds — far exceeds — any other community that I know of.”
Scott indicated his eagerness to pursue the project.
“I’m not trying to push anything on anyone,” Scott said. “ But this could save money. It’d work, it would get us out of the deal (with Brookings), we could get state funding at 3 percent for 30 years; it might be something you’re interested in. I’ve checked around, and I can’t find anyone with sewer and water bills comparable to what we have down here. There must be an answer.”
“We’ll continue looking for a solution to an ongoing problem — it’s part of our job,” Rhodes said. “It’s like anything else: If it sounds too good to be true, it might be too good to be true. So we have to do our research.”