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Windmaster set for sewer work

Long-awaited septic tank project scores federal grant

The construction work to replace failing septic systems in the Windmaster section of Hood River County may begin this fall.

That long-time goal has become reachable with the recent award of federal grant dollars to help pay for technical work to determine the scope and cost of the project. The county has scored $579,000 to aid in the extension of sewer lines into the 130-acre sector that has been declared a health hazard by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

That money will be used to pay 55 percent of the $196,000 bill for the engineering services of Berger ABAM. The Portland-based consulting firm is also performing the design work for the City of Hood River’s replacement of a 17-mile water main — another project made possible by $325,000 of recent federal funding.

Dave Meriwether, county administrator, said it was a good example of “fiscal economy” to hire the same consultant for the two local infrastructure projects. The city has further offered to consolidate services by administering the accounts for the two grants — as well as a third monetary sum of $150,000 federal award to the Port of Hood River for replacement of an undersize water line from the Diamond Fruit complex to the waterfront sewer plant.

Meriwether said the consulting team should have an idea of the costs to install the sewer lines by mid-March and the total number of properties that would need to be serviced. Once that data is available, he said county officials will seek out state and federal funding to help offset the fees for residential and business hookup to main lines. A series of public hearings will also take place to allow citizen discussion of the final calculations.

“We want to cover every base we can to minimize the cost for property owners,” Meriwether said.

In the winter of 2000, the county formed a sewer district to qualify the Windmaster project for special funding. That move followed a DEQ recommendation that an exception be made to rural land use restrictions to allow the city’s sewer line to be extended beyond the Urban Growth Boundary. The scope of the work will be limited only to homes or businesses that abut or surround a property with a failed septic system, or the problem sites themselves.

State officials agreed that the routine flooding of Windmaster septic system drainfields could spread bacteria, viruses and possible parasites. That determination was made because the homes in that location are built over a layer of very compacted soil and stone, also known as “hardpan,” that lies between four and five feet below the surface of the ground. When water runoff from irrigation, rain and snow occurs, the liquid cannot penetrate that concrete-like sub-layer and stays near the surface.

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