Local government

New lift station eases Vale wastewater woes but will mean rate hike for residents

VALE – A new state-of-the-art wastewater structure that came on line in February will save money for the city of Vale but also means a sewer rate hike for residents.

The new Willowcreek lift station just off Lagoon Drive is the culmination of years of work and a long search for funding by city leaders.

The $1.4 million project replaced a 70-year-old system prone to mechanical problems that depleted the city’s overtime budget.

City wastewater travels through Vale’s sewage system to lift stations, which then pumps the flow into the wastewater lagoon for treatment.

The project was possible through grants and a sizeable loan from Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency. Last fall, officials arranged $300,000 from the state agency.

That money, combined with a $1 million federal Covid relief outlay and a $100,000 grant from the Legislature, funded the sewer project.

City officials said they hoped to get help from Malheur County officials to avoid borrowing money. But the county passed on helping and the city had to raise sewer rates to cover a $150,000 state loan for the sewer project.

Now, the sewer rate for Vale residents is $42.03 per month. In April, the rate will climb by $3.42 to $45.45.

After that, residents and businesses will see a steady rate increase over the next five years, until the fee tops out at $50.05 a month.

In January 2023, Vale Mayor Tom Vialpando and Vale City Manager Todd Fuller asked the county for $300,000. At the time, the county held more than $10 million in unexpected federal funds.

Judge Dan Joyce and Commissioners Jim Mendiola and Ron Jacobs listened and pledged to reconnect with the Vale officials.

That never happened, said Vialpando.

Vialpando said last week he is still confused about why county officials never reached out after that initial meeting in 2023.

“Our expectation was they would be a partner with us going with a new system that would allow us to grow and provide better service to them and the city,” said Vialpando.

“We were at least expecting a conversation. My hope was they would talk among each other and then invite us back to talk about it some more,” said Vialpando.

Joyce said last week he didn’t recall the specifics of the meeting or the request from the Vale officials.

“That was a long time ago and a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then,” he said.

Fuller said the city had little choice regarding the Willowcreek lift station.

“Infrastructure has to be replaced. The lift station was at the end of its life,” said Fuller.

Fuller said that just two weeks before the new lift station went into operation, city crews were forced to pull the pumps on the old station because the rails holding them came loose.

“We were just right there to having to do some major repairs to the old one just to keep it going,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

Previous coverage:

Vale officials seek cash from county to help finish lift station project

Vale lift station project tops legislator’s list for federal funds

Vale acquires key funding to propel sewer infrastructure project

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