The Hermiston City Council doesn’t think very many people will read this article.
They commented Monday that the joint capital improvement plan they adopted would not make waves in the press the way some city council meetings do. But the document — which creates a coordinated game plan for accomplishing a multi-million dollar list of water, sewer and street improvements over the next five years — is one of the most important things they will accomplish during their career on the council, Mayor David Droztmann said.
He said the last thing he wants is for Hermiston to become “the next Flint, Michigan” and experience a public health crisis due to failing infrastructure.
“Infrastructure is not the super sexy thing everyone wants to talk about, but it’s so important,” councilor Roy Barron added.
The public works capital improvement plan schedules out about $19 million in projects over the next five to six years, with an additional $20 million in projects listed in the appendices to be used as funding becomes available. The city hopes to update the plan every two years.
“We want an inventory, instead of just reacting to when things break,” assistant city manager Mark Morgan said.
Morgan said the city has created capital improvement plans in the past for various departments, but putting everything together in one coordinated document would increase efficiency. The plan schedules a major water line replacement under North First Place the same year as a major road improvement project on North First Place, for example, to prevent contractors from tearing up work that the city had just completed.
The city is getting an additional $300,000 per year for street projects from an increase in franchise fees (paid for by cable and internet companies using the city’s right of way for their equipment) it enacted in late 2017.
It is also getting about $200,000 per year from the legislature’s 2017 transportation package, set to increase to $350,000 over the next five years. The North First Place project, which will widen and improve the road parallel to Highway 395 in the hopes of drawing more local traffic off the highway, will be paid for by a $4.5 million earmark in the transportation package.
The city has already accepted a bid for the first road project on the plan, which will replace a box culvert on South First Street that is falling apart and is too narrow to support increasing traffic south of town. In the next year the city also plans to do an overlay on Hermiston Avenue from Northwest 11th Street to First Street.
Year two will bring paving on East Theater Lane, year three will be a hiatus to build up cash and year four will be a $1.5 million realignment of the intersection of Geer Road, Harper Road, River Road and the railroad crossing located west of Home Depot. Year five will be the North First Place project and resurfacing West Theater Lane.
To pay for water and sewer projects, the city recently restructured and increased its water and sewer rates. The new rates go into effect March 1.
Projects on the list for water include an upgrade to Well #6, which serves “critical customers” such as the Wal-Mart Distribution Center and Pioneer Seed, Morgan said.
The city also plans to replace the “system-wide brain” that has run the city’s water system since 1999.
“I don’t know how many of you have a 20-year-old computer, but that’s basically what we have running our system,” Morgan said.
The city also wants to add a new coat of paint and cathodic protection to the city water tank behind Sunset Park to extend its life, replace a chlorination structure and expand a water line down Geer Road. There are also plans to replace several steel water mains throughout town that were built in the 1920s.
On Monday the city approved a bid from Sineco Construction of Hermiston for its first sewer project on the capital improvement plan, which will replace a narrow sewer line along Southeast Seventh Street that has been creating a “bottleneck” and causing concerns about possible overflow in the event of an equipment failure.
“We’ve been holding our breath and crossing our fingers every time we have the fair up at EOTEC,” Morgan said.
Other projects in the $6.5 million in recycled water spending for the next five years include two lift station reconstructions.
Most of the rest of the money will be put in reserve for 2024. The city’s recycled water treatment plant was built in 2014, and Morgan said several expensive components have an expected shelf life of about 10 years. City staff are good at extending the life of capital assets, he said, but the city needs to be prepared in case things start breaking in 2024.
City councilors praised staff and the public infrastructure committee for their work on the capital improvement plan. Drotzmann said the League of Oregon Cities estimates cities around the state have a combined $7 billion in needed water and sewer infrastructure projects.
“I think this is huge, and I’m excited and proud of the city for doing it,” he said.