Plan is to break ground on the new facility by 2015

by: JASON CHANEY - This area off of Rimrock Acres Loop will be utilized for the proposed wetland.

With county land use approval now in hand, work on a new wetland park and wastewater treatment facility can turn to financing and eventually construction.

The Crook County Planning Commission recently granted the City of Prineville approval to build a wetland park just outside the city limits alongside O’Neil Highway.

“The 300 acres that the proposed wetlands and park area is planned to be on is city owned, but it’s in the county,” explained City Planning Director Phil Stenbeck. “So, in terms of land-use jurisdiction, as soon as you are outside the city limits, you fall under the county land-use jurisdiction.”

The approval took multiple meetings to secure as issues arose that the city needed to address.

“The original design went out on to Rimrock Acres Loop and there were a lot of neighbors along there that didn’t want headlights in their windows at night,” Stenbeck said.

The city consequently revised their plans to include a remodel of the O’Neil Highway and Rimrock Acres intersection as well a new entrance to the park that takes traffic off of a residential road.

City senior planner said other residents in the area voiced a desire to screen view of the wetland from their properties. This was attempted once before, with the city planting trees to block view of the wastewater facility, but the plan didn’t work. Nevertheless, they will make another attempt this fall in hopes it will fare better than last time.

With the land-use approval behind them, the city can now focus on funding.

“The more money we can get from grants, even loans, the less money we have to come up with ourselves,” Smith said. “That speeds up the project.”

The city just missed out on a grant for about $700,000 because they had not yet gained land-use approval from the county, but now that they have, they will likely reapply. While they failed to land that grant, they were recently awarded a different one from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund totaling $260,000. The city was one of six recipients selected and was given the largest amount.

City engineer Eric Klann, who has spearheaded the project, was credited with landing the grant.

“Eric did a good job presenting it and explaining it,” Stenbeck said. “He has done almost 35 to 40 presentations (on the project).”

The wetland was proposed when city leaders began exploring ways to enhance local wastewater treatment capacity. A feasibility study had determined that the current lagoon system would not support the growth anticipated in the next 20 years, so the city needed to upgrade its system.

At first they pursued an approximately $33 million mechanical treatment plant. They later found that they could instead expand their existing lagoon system and construct a community wetland for around $8 million.

If fundraising efforts go as planned, the city would like to break ground on the wetland project in 2015. Once completed, it would feature several recreational and educational components, including hiking trails and informational kiosks.

“There will be 5.3 miles of walking trails throughout different habitats,” Klann said. “For somebody who wants to go out and go walk their dog or go for a jog, it will be a great location for that.”

Klann said he envisions the wetland becoming a field trip destination for school classes, where they can learn about different birds, plant life, and other riparian habitat.

“It will just be a nice place to go out, take a walk, and learn something new,” he said.

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