A high-tech $8 million to $12 million wastewater treatment plant and conceptual plans for commercial and research greenhouses, botanical gardens and an academic campus are key components of John Day’s Innovation Gateway project.
With land development plans, annexations, floodplain amendments, engineering and financing needed for the complex project, John Day City Manager Nicholas Green on Sept. 26 presented the city council with a Plan of Action and Milestones to track progress in the project.
The overall goal is to revitalize the local economy with job creation and new revenue sources by developing a shuttered timber mill site and putting reclaimed wastewater back to work.
The 53-acre former Oregon Pine mill site the city purchased from DR Johnson Lumber includes a two-story sawmill building that could be used by a private investor, a single-floor planer shed that could be used for farmers’ markets and other community or tourist-related events, and a large shop building that the city plans to use as a replacement for its existing shop. The city has requested a $519,000 loan from Business Oregon, a state agency, to reimburse it for the initial payment for the site.
A driving need behind the project is to replace John Day’s wastewater treatment plant on the 30-acre city property north of the river. The plant’s operating permit, issued by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, expired in 2007 and will not be re-issued because of the plant’s age and proximity to the river.
The new wastewater treatment plant will be modeled on the Water Hub facility in Atlanta, Georgia, and use hydroponics to produce Class A water that can be used for greenhouses and botanical gardens. John Day’s municipal wells produce about 80 million gallons of water per year, much of which could be reclaimed and re-used after treatment.
“Water is a scarce commodity here,” Green told the Eagle.
A feasibility study for the treatment facility began in September, with contracts awarded to Anderson Perry Associates of La Grande and Sustainable Water of Glen Allen, Virginia.
Company representatives will attend the Nov. 14 city council meeting, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality will review permitting requirements for the new treatment plan on Nov. 15. Preliminary engineering is slated to begin in 2018, and the project is targeted to be completed in 2021.
Reclaimed wastewater will be used by a commercial greenhouse to be built near the former planer shed. A 5,000- to 6,000-square-foot greenhouse operating year-round could produce 31 tons of vegetables, which is what the local community consumes in a year, Green said.
Additional greenhouses and botanical gardens using reclaimed wastewater could be built for research purposes once the city’s current treatment plant is cleared away, making land available for an academic campus.
Green recently traveled to Oregon State University to explore potential partnerships for an academic campus and learned the institution is interested in expanding its operations into rural Eastern Oregon.
“Oregon State doesn’t have this type of facility,” Green said. “This will draw attention to John Day.”
The city could qualify for up to $2 million in Community Development Block Grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help finance the new wastewater treatment plant. The council has budgeted $8,000 for an income survey that Portland State University will conduct in February or sooner to determine if the city is eligible for the grant.
According to the last federal census, about 40 percent of the city’s residents fell under the low- or moderate-income brackets, but the figure needs to be at least 51 percent to qualify for the block grant, Green said. The new survey will provide a more accurate income measurement, he noted.
“It’s going to be tight,” Green said. “It’s one of those weird situations where you hope to do poorly.”
Funding for the new wastewater treatment plant could include grants and low interest loans. Green said he will provide more details on project financing at the Oct. 10 council meeting.
Land development for the 83-acre project will include construction of a riverside trail system, extending Seventh Street west along the north side of the John Day River to Patterson Bridge Road, building parking lots and installing underground utilities, Green said.
The project will affect neighboring properties, but the city is not ready to handle land exchanges and annexations, he said. Planning under a state Transportation and Growth Management grant the city received in September might not be completed until March 2019, according to a time line Green presented to the city council.
“It’s hard to gauge impacts to neighboring properties right now,” Green told the council, noting that some owners currently pay higher water bills and may want to volunteer for annexation.
In addition to land exchanges, the city has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to amend the floodplain map for the project area. According to Grant County Assistant Planner Shannon Springer, the existing map was created in the mid-1980s using data from the 1970s, but the area has been re-mapped since then using more accurate LIDAR, a remote-sensing system carried by aircraft.
The deadline for removing equipment from the sawmill was extended to Oct. 23. If the deadline isn’t met, the city can keep the contents, and DR Johnson Lumber will forfeit $58,000 from the purchase agreement.
Mayor Ron Lundbom said he doubted the equipment could be removed in time, and Councilor Paul Smith asked if any of the equipment had historical value for tourists. Green told the Eagle that a private investor would likely be more interested in the former sawmill if the equipment was gone.
Other components of the project include marketing and branding the launch of the Innovation Gateway project.
“Areas to explore include regional agritourism, recreational tourism and marketing our locations as a destination for corporate retreats,” Green said in a memo to the council.
Green said he’d like to see harvesting at the greenhouse by August 2018, which would also mark the first anniversary of the eclipse. He said he’d bring the council a proposal for a kick-off event that could include music and a barbecue contest.
Monte Legg, the city’s public works director, recently traveled to Central Point for the Battle of the Bones barbecue contest and brewfest. The sanctioned contest drew 17 teams and 89 sponsors, the parking lot was full, and online tickets were sold out for the event.
Legg said the event’s organizer believed a similar event could be set up in John Day next year with six to eight teams and double that the following year.