Emergency Board designates $3.58 million for Warm Springs water
Two major projects in Jefferson County were slated to get millions of dollars from the Oregon Lottery via the sale of bonds. But with Lottery revenues projected to be down 23.7%, the state has warned grant recipients that there isn't enough money to issue more bonds. And that means the funding won't be available.
In Jefferson County, that meant $7.8 million for Warm Springs to upgrade its failing water infrastructure, as well as a campus near St. Charles Madras that would house the county's Public Health Department and Mosaic Medical.
The Warm Springs Agency Water System has been on a boil water notice since June 25.
A temporary fix at the Shitike Creek Crossing hasn't kept up with demand for water in the area, which serves a significant portion of the reservation. That's left residents boiling water and relying on bottled water while the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs is fighting the spread of COVID-19.
Emergency Board puts project back on track
On Tuesday, July 14, the Oregon Legislature approved $3.58 million of federal COVID-19 aid for the Tribes' water and wastewater treatment project.
State Rep. Daniel Bonham and state Sen. Lynn Findley, both Republicans whose districts comprise the reservation, asked for the designation.
"Today's action by the Legislature's Emergency Board doesn't magically fix the water crisis within the Confederated Tribe of the Warm Springs, but that shouldn't diminish the important work of today," Bonham said Tuesday. "Less than a week ago, our community response to the ongoing water crisis was put in flux by the loss of its 2019 bond money. It took the entire community coming together, acting quickly, to secure the secure the $3.58 million necessary to continue our ongoing water crisis work. I am extremely proud to stand united with the Tribe, Sen. Findley, other business and elected leaders from the community. Today, together, we made a difference."
In a letter to Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney, who jointly chair the Emergency Board, Bonham and Findley described the loss of lottery funds as "devastating news for the Warm Springs community.
"As we conveyed in 2019, the closures of both Kah-Nee-Ta and the Warm Springs Forest Product Enterprises have devastated a community that is already 70% below the federal poverty level," they wrote. "... Securing these state resources are critical to completing the necessary emergency projects that ensure the Warm Springs community receives a basic need for clean potable water.
"Few state priorities could be more important than providing drinkable water and working sewers," they continued. "These basic and essential needs are absolutely critical to achieving the state's public health guidelines and for reversing the COVID spike within the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs."
Travis Wells, general manager of the Tribes' Branch of Public Utilities, outlined a list of projects that must be completed for the Tribes to be in compliance with Environmental Protection Agency orders. The projects range from a $10,000 pump replacement to $1.1 million in upgrades to the Agency Water System's water treatment plant.
Jefferson County Health and Wellness Center
In October, the state notified Jefferson County that it intended to grant up to $4.5 million of the planned Jefferson County Health and Wellness Center, which was expected to cost a total of $8.9 million.
The county was planning to pay $2.1 million, with Mosaic Medical matching that amount. The St. Charles Health System was providing the land, worth $500,000.
On Friday, July 10, the county received the bad news in a letter from Jean Gabriel, capital finance manager for the state's Department of Administrative Services.
"We recognize that the lack of anticipated grant funding represents a considerable setback for projects and will notify recipients if the official projection of lottery revenues in the OEA September or December 2020 forecast improves to a level that would support the issuance of additional Lottery Bonds this biennium," she wrote. "However, based on the most current information we have, the 2019-21 lottery bond sale will not be completed."
Projects that don't get the funds will have to reapply, so there is no guarantee they will be funded in the 2021-23 biennium.
So far, the county and Mosaic Medical has spent $491,781 on design and architectural costs. On July 8, the county completed a bond sale — essentially a loan — for $4 million, which the county will pay without raising taxes, County Administrator Jeff Rasmussen said. The county had planned to pay cash for the rest of its part of the project.
Now, Rasmussen said, the county is left with two options: "finish design to get the project ready to pull off the shelf when funding (is) restored," or "proceed with (the) project and trust that the legislative process will restore funding, especially since it is a public health project."
Steve Strang, Mosaic Medical's chief financial officer, said he agrees with Rasmussen's assessment.
"We are working to get more information on the current situation and then evaluate our options," he said.
The Board of Commissioners will discuss how to move forward at its July 29 meeting.
The vision for the campus is a 21,200-square-foot building adjacent to St. Charles Madras. It includes a transit station and extra parking, as well as a daycare facility for those working on the campus.
Part of the purpose of the plan was to make sure patients who were referred to other facilities, such as a test at St. Charles, they could get there without delay or avoidance, according to a document describing the project. It's expected that St. Charles, the Public Health Department and Mosaic Medical could share imaging and lab equipment.
In addition, having primary clinic services near the St. Charles Emergency Department could help toward an Oregon Health Plan Quality Incentive Program, with the possibility of $1 million per year.
In 2019, Jefferson County had the highest Emergency Department visitation rate in Oregon.
How to donate water and food to Warm Springs
Tribal Emergency Manager Dan Martinez said most people have water to shower in, but there are a couple of homes where the wells have run dry. But they must boil water for food, drinking, brushing teeth and other uses.
"I'm glad to say we've been getting a lot of donations for drinking water," he said. "We've also been providing food products for those in quarantine."
Martinez said his department has enough water for about 25 days if the pace staff is dispensing it at keeps up.
"My concern is if people don't have running water, we're asking for more issues when it comes to the COVID-19 when it comes to sanitation," he said.
The Emergency Management Services office is accepting donations of bottled water, as well as and canned food and dry goods. It is currently running low on chili and other canned food with protein sources.
Donations can be dropped off at the office at 1116 Wasco St. in Warm Springs.
Masks are required.
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