City considers projects for 'manageable' growth
As Sandy grows as a city, so do the needs of its people.
In response to that growth and in order to plan for future population increases, the city government has several irons in the fire in terms of planning projects. Many are still years out when talking about completion, but city officials are trying to engage the public now to plan with the community in mind.
Influx leads to new flow
It's been more than 20 years since a study of the wastewater treatment plant was completed. In that time, the city's population has more than doubled, and the facility has met its capacity. Consultants have analyzed the existing wastewater system and found a need for not only infiltrations and inflow work to seal cracks in the pipes, which allow surface water to enter and overwhelm the facility, but also for a new facility off site as well.
Because of past DEQ violations, often linked to the age of the existing plant, the state is requiring the city to renovate the system.
The city just received $500,000 in state funding, with legislative help from Sen. Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River) and Rep. Anna Williams (D-Hood River), to conduct a study to explore feasible discharge options for the plant. As the capacity of the plant is increased, the amount of treated water in need of off-site release will also increase.
In the project's public comment period, which ended Aug. 1, City Manager Jordan Wheeler said the "most engaged groups" were the Clackamas and Sandy watershed councils.
"I think the watersheds' comments have been really helpful," Wheeler said. "We appreciate all the good ideas coming in. It gives us the opportunity to make this more than a pipe in the ground and a new treatment site."
The watershed councils advised Sandy City Council and staff to seriously consider discharge implications on wildlife and river temperatures when looking at destinations for the treated water. The study will explore areas such as wetlands, aside from rivers and other traditional choices.
"We see this as an opportunity to think outside of the box on how we use that high quality water," Wheeler said.
The study is estimated to start soon, finishing in about a year.
In the nearer future, the City Council could wrestle with the question of a rate increase. The question is not if there will be an increase, but how much that increase will be.
The council will explore rate models in a work session on Tuesday, Sept. 3. That meeting is open to the public, but will not include time for public comment. A public hearing on the facilities plan will take place on Monday, Sept. 16, with a public hearing on the rate increase scheduled for Monday, Oct. 7.
"We haven't done any reinvestment in our system in a generation, so we're in a time of investment," Wheeler said. "Even with the increase we'll still be in the middle of the pack (cost-wise). People will feel it, so we want the public comment."
"At the end of the day it truly isn't a choice," Mayor Stan Pulliam added. "We have to upgrade. We're at a point where we have to do this and we have to find a way to fund it."
Centering the community
Another project where funding is a big question is a proposed community campus. After the architectural firm Opsis drew up a concept of what the campus could be, no holds barred, the City Council started looking at how much of the big-picture, $72 million project the community even wants. To fund anything above a $3 million pricetag, the city would need a new funding mechanism. So the idea of a recreational or special district came into play, leaving council with the remaining question: "Would the community be onboard with paying for a new taxing district?"
On Aug. 5, the council directed staff to hire a third-party to poll the greater community and see if a district would even be viable. The district would then be put on the ballot for a vote by the public.
"The big question is really if there's even interest in a district," Wheeler said. "And also what is the level of interest in a bigger recreation facility?"
"(This poll) is an effort to find out what the community wants and what they're willing to pay for," Pulliam said.
The poll and viability of the district as a funding mechanism for the campus — whether it's just a pool or a grand scheme community center and park — will decide the future of that 40-acre property.
Pieces of the puzzle
Like with much of city government, the proposed campus plan is somewhat interconnected with the parks master plan that is under construction. If the community wants a recreational district, the future responsibility for supervision and direction of parks maintenance and planning could change. If the campus includes park land, that could also be affected by the new master plan.
"It sure complicates things, but it's exciting," Pulliam said. "We're at this pivotal moment for our community."
"We do happen to have a lot on our plate at one time," Wheeler added. "But with how the projects will be staggered, I think (it) will be manageable. We are a city that's growing. We can't really sit on our hands while that's happening. It's incumbent on us too, to keep the public involved."
Pulliam said because of the rate of growth in Sandy and current funding opportunities and needs, there is urgency to achieving completion on these projects that have been longtime council goals.
"We made the decision to focus in on what's attainable and trackable," Pulliam added. "We've really prioritized what we want to get done for the community. The downside is if we have an economic downturn in the next few years, we're going to have difficulty developing the campus."
"We have an asset the public sees a bright future for and we want to capitalize on," Wheeler said.
On the superhighway
With almost equal urgency, and possibly more immediate action, the city is also in the midst of exploring the Bell Street to 362nd Drive expansion, which would connect the two city streets in an attempt to ease local congestion off Highway 26.
Funding is less in question for this project, which is estimated to cost about $8 million. Dollars for the design and completion have been designated from gas tax and vehicle registration fee revenue and the city street fund.
"This project is critical to improving the bottleneck that is created every morning and afternoon during the school year as a result of most of our schools single access point of Bluff Road," Pulliam wrote on Facebook after City Council's Aug. 5 meeting. "As someone who commutes to work and has two young daughters enrolled in Oregon Trail Schools, we drive to and from school each day, I can attest to the frustration. This extension of 362nd (Drive) to Bell Street (Sandy High School's location), will provide another access point, giving parents and neighbors the alternative route to and from schools off of Bluff Road."
The city will begin soliciting qualifications statements for design and construction management services and create a shortlist of consultants in January 2020, going out for bids from contractors to complete construction by March 2021.
Another effort on the street level in its preliminary stages is a bypass viability study of Highway 26. The last state-level plan for the Highway 26 corridor running through Sandy was conducted in 2008. Through this, Oregon's Department of Transportation attempted to forecast improvements Highway 26 would require for the next 10 years. A highway bypass through the center of town was proposed in the state-generated 2008 Sandy Gateway Plan, but the project was never implemented.
The original concept for a bypass of Sandy was said to most likely curve around the city's southern edge, running from west of Orient Drive to Shorty's Corner at Southeast Firwood Road.
Pulliam said he anticipates that this proposed study would be more comprehensive than the one performed more than a decade ago. "That study was more of a squiggly line on a map of where a bypass could potentially be," he said. "This is going to be far more in-depth and look at availability of property, potential cost and support and feedback from businesses and stakeholders. Part of the study will very much look to bring local businesses and stakeholders to the table."
Pulliam added that if a bypass was found to be a viable option for Sandy, the city would work to counteract possible negative ramifications of the traffic diversion, and potential projects to liven up the downtown core could "enhance the business climate if people think we have a more walkable downtown."
"(However), if this study shows this will be detrimental to our community, we won't move forward," Pulliam said. "This is something we hope will only enhance our community."
ODOT has given the city a deadline of December 2021 to complete the study.
"Getting a study is exciting," Pulliam said. "It's pretty neat how quickly that will be done."
"These are the types of projects that are the core of what we do as city government," Wheeler added. "And the council is interested in making some investments now."
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