DEPOE BAY — Long-running disputes over a sprawling sewer system that serves 10,000 residents in central Lincoln County are coming to a head.
The City of Depoe Bay and the Gleneden Beach Sanitary District (GBSD) have had an uneasy relationship since agreeing to share construction and operating costs of the city’s wastewater treatment plant 30 years ago. But sometimes turbulent disagreements over rates have been overshadowed by evidence the system has reached its limit.
During a Feb. 16 presentation to a joint committee, Depoe Bay’s head of public works ominously described a system plagued by faulty sewer lines, broken-down pumps and massive overflows. He recalled how record torrents last December blew a harbor manhole cover skyward, emptying thousands of gallons of raw sewage into the port — once the recipient of a state “Clean Marina” award.
“It was registered at 1,300 gallons a minute,” said Weidner of the notorious choke point and its 16-inch mainline, installed in the 1970’s, almost half the size it should be to accommodate modern flows. “We’re at capacity.”
With the contract set to expire next year, the two groups are negotiating the key issue of how Depoe Bay bills GBSD. According to city documents, in 2019 Gleneden Beach accounted for 70 percent of sewer revenues, $609,000 versus Depoe Bay’s $427,000. There are 1,600 homes and businesses in Depoe Bay and 2,300 in unincorporated Gleneden Beach.
Gleneden Beach has advocated for a flow-based payment system rather than a formula of households, questioned the accounting and complained about the lack of monthly reports and advance notice of expenditures. In frustration, GBSD once threatened to build its own treatment plant, a move that would relieve pressure on the Depoe Bay facility but is unlikely because of the multi-million-dollar price tag. Short of that, both partners face expensive upgrades in the near future.
Mike Bauman, manager of the GBSD, said in a 2017 newspaper interview that much of the district’s sewer system is on its last legs with corrosion, aging pumps, non-existent back-ups and faulty electrical equipment ripe for “igniting a sewer gas explosion.”
Both districts are conducting engineering studies to determine costs to upgrade the system. One study will assess rates, and where they need to be to pay for mounting costs. There are 18 pumps from Salishan to the Depoe Bay plant running 24 hours a day; typical repairs or replacement could run from $35,000 to $500,000 per lift station, according to Berkshire-Hathaway Home Services.
At last week’s meeting, one Depoe Bay city councilor offered a straightforward solution:
“Gleneden Beach is in or out, or we drop them,” reasoned Lyndsy Bedingfield, new to the job. “Without them, we’re able to go another 20 to 50 years without expansion.”
But a fellow councilor disagreed, saying Oregon law prevents Depoe Bay from rejecting Gleneden Beach sewage, even if the current agreement expires.
“We have a moral and legal obligation to Gleneden Beach,” commented Jerome Grant. “They made it possible to build this system and we can’t operate it without them. We should be cautious and listen to what they say.”