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Portland Oregonian
Copyright (c) The Oregonian 2002

Thursday, October 24, 2002


EMILY TSAO - The Oregonian

Summary: Tigard city and school district officials worry about
potential problems with odor, appearance and access to Durham

When some city officials embarked on a search for a skate park
location, many people immediately thought of the fountains off
Southwest Durham Road near Tigard High School.

Visible and easily accessible, the location met two important
criteria skate park organizers sought.

To their dismay, they learnedthat the land was not available and
that the fountains would be replaced by open sewage treatment tanks
in the future.

Three weeks ago, Mayor Jim Griffith raised concerns at a joint
meeting of the cities of Tigard and Tualatin and the Tigard-
Tualatin School District.

Elected city and school officials expressed concern about the
potential odor and appearance of sewage facilities along a main road
in Tigard, as well as the possibility that expansion would eliminate
Southwest Shaffer Lane, the only road to Durham Elementary School.

"There are major implications for us," said Susan Stark Haydon,
Tigard-Tualatin schools spokeswoman.

All roads may lead to Rome, but in the southern portion of
Washington County, all sewage pipes lead to Tigard.

And now the sewage plant is preparing for an $58 million
expansion in the next eight years.

The plant serves about 210,000 customers in Tigard, Tualatin,
Sherwood, Durham, King City and other surrounding areas. It is
expected to expand to serve a population of about 444,000

For 26 years, the Durham Wastewater Treatment Facility has been
treating the area's waste. Right now, the plant treats about 18
million gallons of wastewater a day. Since its opening, it has
treated about 173 billion gallons of sewage.

The plant sits on 114 acres and boasts the lowest elevation in
Washington County.

Tucked behind an elementary school and surrounded by a high
school and parks, it is easy to miss. There are no loud noises, no
pungent odors.

But turn onto Southwest 85th Avenue, and there is no question an
industrial operation is taking place.

Machines inside buildings separate toilet paper and solids from
water. Chemicals and bacteria, or "bugs," are used to clean the
water. Buildings called digesters bake solid waste at 100 degrees
for 25 to 30 days. The burning of excess methane creates two flames
visible to passers-by.

At the end of the process, much of the water is dumped in the
Tualatin River, accounting for about 15 percent of the river's flow
in the late summer and early fall.

About one million gallons a day goes to water the golf courses in
Summerfield and King City and the athletic fields at the high school
in the summer.

The treated solid waste, or biosolids, about 60 tons a day, is
trucked to farms in Polk and Yamhill counties and Eastern Oregon.

Clean Water Services, a public utility, operates the Durham
plant, along with three others in Rock Creek, Forest Grove and
Hillsboro. The Washington County commissioners serve as the
utility's board of directors.

It wasn't always this way.

In the 1960s, 10 cities and 16 sanitary districts were dumping
wastewater into area waterways, said Mark Jockers, Clean Water
Services spokesman.

In 1969, the state Environmental Quality Commission placed a
building moratorium on Washington County because the sewage problem
got so bad, Jockers said.

By 1970, the sewer services consolidated to form the Unified
Sewage Agency. The Durham facility opened in 1976, replacing 14
smaller treatment plants.

Unified Sewage Agency changed its name to Clean Water Services in
July 2001.

Aside from sewage treatment, the agency manages stormwater runoff
in the area and is participating in studies with other cities and
agencies on future long-term water plans.

Neighbors say the plant hasn't created any serious problems.

Railroad tracks separate Durham's city park from the treatment
plant. Durham City Manager Roel Lundquist said there have been no
odor or noise complaints concerning the plant in at least five

The plant has received performance awards from the Association of
Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies.

But the plant has had its share of mishaps.

In March, heavy rains and a broken pump caused about half a
million gallons of diluted sewage to flow into the Tualatin River.

This year, Clean Water Services paid $11,400 in state fines for
two improper wastewater discharges from its Durham plant into Fanno

The plant now has plans to get even bigger.

In 1999, Clean Water Services submitted a proposal outlining
expansion, Jockers said. City staff has been reviewing the plans,
said Jim Hendryx, Tigard's director of community development.
Tualatin and Tigard politicians and school board members hope to
meet with Clean Water Services to discuss their concerns about the
agency's plans.

As part of the expansion, Clean Water Services plans to take back
property it leased to the school district in 1990. The 20-year lease
allowed the school district to have road access to Durham
Elementary. Clean Water Services has the option to take the land
back before the lease expires, Jockers said.

The fountains also will probably disappear after expansion. Clean
Water Services had to turn down the city's request to use the land
for a skate park.

"All that land is planned for already," Jockers said. "We need
every acre of property we have for a buffer."

The fountains probably will be replaced after 2010 by open tanks
and basins used in the treatment process. Such tanks already exist
on the site, and ducks and gulls enjoy paddling in them.

When the time comes, "we'd work with the neighbors and the city
to make sure we have something there," Jockers said. "That there is
a buffer, and it looks nice, and it fits into the community."