Amanda Weisbrod

The City of Elgin received nearly $500,000 in a Community Development Building Grant from Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency, for revitalizing the city’s outdated wastewater system. Business Oregon announced the award recipients, which include Elgin, Willamina, John Day, Dayville and Grant County, on Feb. 28.

Elgin Mayor Allan Duffy said he’s excited and ready to revamp the city’s sewer system — a project that is long overdue.

“A city our size is only about one square mile, so it doesn’t seem like a big project, but it is,” he said. “To have a grant like this makes us feel good because our project can move forward.”

The mayor said while this grant of $476,400 is a huge step forward, he estimates the wastewater system project will take several years and nearly $6 million to complete.

Built in 1964, Elgin’s outdated sewer system experiences inflow and infiltration from groundwater sources. This can overwhelm the sanitation process because once it mixes with wastewater, the fresh rain water is also considered as waste and must be treated as such.

The City of Elgin experienced so much inflow and infiltration in February 2017, the sanitary sewers overflowed into the Grande Ronde River — an event resulting in a warning letter from the Department of Environmental Quality for exceeding National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit requirements.

Duffy said although the city knew the wastewater system needed work, the overflow in 2017 was the catalyst for its action on the project, and eventually led city counselors to apply for the Business Oregon grant in December 2018.

“(Inflow and infiltration) was out of control,” he said. “It’s something we’ve needed to correct for a long time to prevent overflow.”

To save on costs, the City of Elgin’s public works department will work on the wastewater system itself. Mayor Duffy said he has full faith in the city’s public works department staff because they know the sewer system extremely well.

“Our public works department is very knowledgeable of the system,” he said. “We tend to keep city projects in-house because we like to do it ourselves.”

Elgin’s mayor and the rest of the city council are grateful for the opportunity to apply for and receive grants whenever possible. As Duffy noted, receiving financial aid through grants is the one way a small rural community like Elgin can expand, improve and progress.

“We heavily rely on grants to get work done,” he said. “Being aggressive in going after them is setting us apart.”

See complete story in Monday's Observer