The City of John Day’s aggressive Innovation Gateway development plan for 83 acres along the river appears to be gaining momentum, and city and county residents should be pleased.
The far-sighted plan combines several ideas and proposals for a new wastewater treatment plant, redevelopment of a mill site, a hydroponic greenhouse and facilities for Oregon State University, among other ideas.
Before anyone writes off such ideas as “pie in the sky,” they need to look west to the small town of Silverton, Ore. Almost 20 years ago, the town faced a decision on upgrading its wastewater treatment plant. It could pay for a facility to further treat the city’s wastewater, it could pay farmers to use the treated wastewater as fertilizer — or it could do something else.
What the city decided to do is build a garden.
Here’s how it worked. The city obtained a multi-million-dollar Environmental Protection Agency grant to build a radical new means of handling the treated wastewater. The design was based on a series of wetlands ponds on a hillside. The treated water from the city’s wastewater plant would enter at the top of the hillside, and slowly move from one wetlands pond to the next until it was pure by the time it reached the last pond at the base of the hill.
Using that as the core development, the city of Silverton, with the help of private businesses, the county and a nonprofit foundation, raised the money to build the Oregon Garden, an 80-acre collection of display gardens that attracts thousands of visitors each year. A resort hotel has been built there, and the foundation manages the garden.
It took a lot of hard work on the part of the local governments and volunteers, but it mostly took vision. By taking a bare hillside and converting it into a major tourist destination, they proved that they could take something as mundane as a wastewater problem and turn it into something that the entire community could be proud of.
When you look at John Day’s proposal — which, incidentally, involves building a unique new wastewater treatment plant — it does have a lot of working parts. Whether all of them will come to pass, we cannot say.
But with a lot of hard work, support from the community, state and federal leaders and a little luck, John Day and Grant County could see those plans grow to fruition.
It can be done.