A project being cooked up by Kent Madison could double the city of Echo’s tax base and solve its sewer problems in one fell swoop.

That’s what Madison told a standing-room only crowd at Echo’s city council meeting Thursday afternoon. He and his wife Laura are looking to create a development along Thielsen Road between Echo and the Interstate 84 interchange near Stanfield that would include an RV park, 10,000-person amphitheater, hotel, restaurant, laundromat, light industrial project and green space.

It would be quite the growth spurt for Echo, population 704.

“It’s going to be different,” Madison said. “I can’t tell you Echo is going to be the same. You may have to wait in line at the H&P Cafe.”

Since the development at full build-out would likely double Echo’s water and sewer needs, overwhelming its current system, Madison said he would be willing to pay to build a new system and hand it over to the city after it was complete.

Echo has been struggling for about 12 years to get a wastewater treatment project going after the Department of Environmental Quality put the city on notice that the recycled water it has been discharging into the Umatilla River does not meet standards for biological oxygen demand. The city is on its sixth extension of an interim agreement with the agency after running into roadblocks on everything from shifting regulations to a lack of viable funding sources.

The city notified Echo resident Michael Yunker in December that if he did not voluntarily sell 10 acres of his 65-acre ranch north of Echo, the city could use eminent domain to force the sale so that it could build a pond and irrigation field to take in the water currently being released into the Umatilla River. Yunker has voiced strong opposition to selling.

Madison said he would be willing to take that water and process it which, in conjunction with a well he would drill, could be used to irrigate the RV park and surrounding green space.

“We would do the legwork, we would drill the well, create the new sewer structure, and then we would hand it over to the city. They would all become city assets,” he said.

The city would have to take on the responsibility of maintenance, he said, but would also double its sewer and water revenue once the project was finished.

The Madisons do not currently own the 132-acre dryland wheat parcel in question, but it is for sale. They said if Echo supports their vision, they are willing to buy the whole tract, develop the RV park and start recruiting a hotel and other companies to develop the rest. But the Madisons won’t buy the property until they’re sure the project, including sewer and water improvements, will pencil out financially and have the support of the city.

“If the public of Echo is adamantly opposed to it, we have better things to do,” Madison said. “We don’t want to fight you all the way.”

He said the project would need annexed into the city. He has also been discussing with the Oregon Department of Transportation the need to turn Thielsen Road into a three-lane highway with a frontage road to handle the increased traffic.

Members of the public who came to hear Madison’s presentation had concerns and questions about the development’s impact on Echo’s quality of life and on property values.

Craig Cooley, a resident of Echo Heights near the proposed development, said he and his wife had concerns about noise from the amphitheater and about the new well’s impact on their own water supply. Others echoed that concern and added their own worries about parking, traffic and that a light industrial project could bring nuisances along with it.

“How much collateral damage will there be?” Cooley asked.

Madison said there could be noise ordinances put into place to make sure sound from the amphitheater wasn’t overly burdensome on neighbors. He said the well, at 1,500 feet, would be deep enough that it “theoretically wouldn’t be touching your aquifer.”

City Manager Diane Berry said the city would have control over issuing conditional use permits for any light industrial projects.

After residents questioned the need for an RV park and hotel in the small city, Laura Madison said the park would not include long-term leases and permanent residents, but would instead provide 80 to 100 pull-through spaces for people traveling with RVs or multiple vehicles.

“There really is a need for large RV spaces,” she said.

During the meeting’s public comments section Jason Sperr, a city councilor for neighboring Stanfield, said the project sounded like it could be a “great opportunity” for the area.

He said Stanfield city leaders had been discussing Echo’s sewer issue and the possible condemnation of the Yunker property, and said Stanfield has the capacity to take in Echo’s recycled water. He said the city would be willing to start conversations with Echo about the feasibility, and would likely be able to offer a reduced rate.

“It’s something we’ve considered, and we do feel like we could help out,” he said.


Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

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