Aumsville receives $15 million in federal funds needed to finish its wastewater project

Statesman Journal

In the seven years since Aumsville was told its wastewater treatment wasn’t good enough, the city has been looking for money to build a new one.

The current estimate is it will cost over $28 million.

City leaders have known that tagging their residents with the entire cost of the bill was untenable. So, for years, they’ve been hitting up every possible funding source and building a bank to pay for the required improvements.

The offices of Oregon’s two senators announced on Monday a $15 million package to help the city of 4,200 about 5 miles east of Salem. It includes a low-interest $9 million loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a forgivable $6 million loan from the USDA.

“This sizeable federal investment and capital infusion will ensure that Aumsville residents can build the wastewater treatment facility they need to bring them into the 21st century without facing triple-digit water bills,” Sen. Jeff Merkley said in a statement.

It is enough money, when combined with other funds the city has received, that Aumsville can move forward with the plan.

“Without this funding, residents simply would not be able to stay within their homes and pay the cost of services,” Aumsville Mayor Angelica Ceja said.

Aumsville’s ponds deemed not good enough by DEQ

The existing wastewater treatment system in Aumsville, built in 1960, involves four large ponds on 16 acres clearly visible from Highway 22.

After sewage is pumped in, it is moved from one pond to another until treated. Chlorine is added to the water, and then it is pumped out. In the summer, it is piped to a farm the city owns south of the city. In the winter, it is sent to Beaver Creek.

In 2017, the city learned its treatment system was no longer good enough. As federal regulations changed, the system was found to allow too much ammonia to go into the creek.

So, the city was on the hook to build a new wastewater treatment facility. The initial estimate for a new one was $12 million. That dollar figure jumped significantly.

The state’s Department of Environmental Quality deferred fines against the city for not being in compliance, allowing the city to save for construction.

Where does Aumsville get $28 million?

No matter what, residents of Aumsville will see an increase in their water bills to help pay for construction. The worst-case scenario was the city would increase the water bill to $300 per month from the current average of $102.

That’s why the city has been seeking funds from any outside sources it could.  

City Administrator Ron Harding said the current estimated project cost is $28,380,918, though he says that could change.

Aumsville made progress in getting big chunks of money over the years.

It received $927,918 in American Rescue Plan Act funds, $1 million in ARPA dollars from Marion County, a $1.253 million grant from Congress and a $5 million community grant from the state Legislature.

The city also has saved $1,200,000 to be put toward the project.

“The council and staff have worked really hard on behalf of the community, and the amount of grants we have received shows that hard work,” Harding said in an email. “It’s unfortunate that not all of the funds can come from grants, but we are happy we have been able to reduce the cost to our residents.”

For a city like Aumsville — where the most notable occurrence was the 2010 tornado — putting together over $9 million is a huge deal.

But it wasn’t enough.

The city has had elected leaders, including Sens. Merkley and Ron Wyden, tour the site over the years to show them what is being required.

It paid off.

“Communities depend on water and wastewater systems to grow and thrive, and having efficient and safe water infrastructure is all the more important when facing dry conditions brought on by the current climate crisis,” Wyden said in a statement.

“I’ll continue to fight for investments that support critical infrastructure like this, making Oregonians everyday lives more affordable and less worrisome.”

Aumsville still asking $4 million from state legislature

Harding said the city has asked for another $4 million from the state Legislature in the current session. If it doesn’t get that, it will take $4 million in loans from the Department of Environmental Quality, including $2 million that is forgivable.

“The loan forgiveness will offer some relief to Aumsville residents, potentially enabling them to remain in their homes,” Ceja said.

Harding said the design of the new wastewater treatment facility has begun and should be completed around August or September 2025. Construction will start after that.

The current timeline is to complete construction in 2028, but the city is trying to speed that up as much as possible.