Grants Pass declares 'public need' for new water treatment plant on Copeland property

The water filtration plant that serves the City of Grants Pass turns 89 years old this year. Officials at the plant say that it's beginning to show its age — and disaster could come in the blink of an eye.

Posted: Mar 28, 2019 11:21 PM
Updated: Jan 23, 2020 6:40 PM

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Tuesday the city of Grants Pass declared a public need for a new water treatment plant. It's been an ongoing discussion for more than a year.

The city says it needs a new plant, sooner rather than later. In the video above you can see walls crumbling at the current water plant.

The new resolution from the city is decreasing the amount of property desired from roughly 17 acres to almost 10 acres.

"Essentially they are putting us out of business. They are leaving us with a store front," said Jennifer Ausland. She is the Vice President of Copeland Sand and Gravel. With this new resolution from the city, Copeland would see a decrease of their property from almost 17 acres to about six. 

"I don't see how we can really function as a construction company and or a landscape company," said Ausland. 

In the video above we also have video of a conversation between a couple of the councilors saying it's a good compromise. NewsWatch 12 reached out to the City today for an interview. We haven't heard back. 

"No one's ever given us a really good answer of why our property so important," said Ausland. She says people will lose their jobs if this resolution happens. "I don't know why they needed to choose us and have to choose here." 

Ausland says it is nearing the time to respond back to the resolution. She did not tell me what the plan is as of now.

"It ticks me off that the city council just blatantly disregards that we are an ongoing business," said Ausland. 

In a statement issued by Grants Pass on Tuesday, City officials said that they were trying to be accomodating by reducing the amount of land they were trying to acquire for the new treatment plant.

“We need to ensure adequate space for future growth. To acquire minimum lot size for current operations would add a lot of cost to future users,” said Aaron Cubic, Grants Pass city manager.

According to the City, Oregon law requires them to declare a "public need" for the property before they can pursue eminent domain proceedings to force the issue. However, City officials say that they are still open to negotiations.

Establishing the 'public need' for a new plant

On March 20, of 2019, the City Council passed its first resolution saying they needed the 17 acres of land that Copeland Sand & Gravel currently occupies.

The Grants Pass water filtration plant turned 88 years old the same year.

"I mean, it definitely is a plant that is past its lifespan," said Brian Calkins, the treatment plant specialist. 

The plant is certainly reflecting its age. Most of the equipment and structure is from the 1930s. 

"It just is falling down all around us," said Jason Canadey, Public Works Director for Grants Pass.

One cement wall is holding more than 400,000 gallons of water and the wall recently started bending outward. 

"Our concern is that it's not going to take an earthquake to fail," Canadey said. "That it may just fail one day."

Workers say they've attempted to restore several areas to extend the life of the building by filling several cracks and other aging damage. The Grants Pass Council decided that it would be best to just rebuild.

"Those funds were still going into a 80 or 90-year-old building that was still not going to be structurally sound," Canadey said.

Canadey told NewsWatch12 the problems started increasing more and more in the last ten years, but recently chunks of concrete began falling off.

"That's when we realized there was a very serious problem."

Video shows two sections of the plant being held together by two stainless steel plates. Canadey says those two stainless steel plates are the only thing preventing the walls from completely separating and releasing their water. 

"There is a lot of stuff breaking down and it's breaking down faster than we are able to maintain it," Calkins said. "It definitely makes things difficult for us."

The construction plans for the new plant will use technology that will decrease the likelihood of these issues ever happening again.
However, building the new 80-million dollar plant is still going to take time. If they begin building this January, they won't finish until late 2023. So in the meantime if the plant does fail, they've had to make disaster plans to provide emergency drinking water.

The plant has an emergency response trailer, which would provide 1 gallon of water to each person in Grants Pass per day, a total of 40,000 gallons of water a day. There are also reservoirs, but Canadey says those will only last a few days. They have technology set up to treat water from the nearby river. This would allow people to come fill containers with water that is clean and drinkable. 

The plant currently provides about 15 million gallons of water to Grants Pass every day, but the city plans to build the new plant prepared for growth in the future. Officials hope to increase to 45-50 million gallons a day. Canadey says that would require about 10 acres. That's one reason they are interested in the land Copeland Sand & Gravel is on.

NewsWatch12 has spoken to Copeland owners. They said they are willing to move, but they need more time. They said the short amount of time the city gave them to move just isn't enough. Jennifer Ausland, the Vice President of Copeland, said six months is just not enough and could be devastating to their business and the other businesses located on the property. 

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