In May, Clackamas County Administrator Don Krupp told the West Linn City Council that he hoped to see a proposal from the county about a new Water Environment Services (WES) advisory group at some point in July.
West Linn and neighboring cities like Oregon City, Gladstone, Happy Valley and Milwaukie — all of which rely on WES for wastewater services — took an opportunity to remind the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners of that promise in the form of a letter that went out to Commission Chair Jim Bernard last week.
"We put together a letter to Bernard (June 27) saying we want to sit down with the commission and decide where we go in the future," said West Linn City Council President Brenda Perry, who serves as the council's point person on wastewater matters. "We need to have a policy advisory committee."
Wastewater treatment in northern Clackamas County has long been divided between two districts: the Tri-City Service District, which served Oregon City, Gladstone and West Linn, and Clackamas County Service District No. 1 (also known as CCSD 1) which covers Happy Valley, Milwaukie and parts of unincorporated Clackamas County. The Tri-City Water Pollution Control Plant is located in Oregon City, and CCSD 1 is served by the Kellogg Facility in Milwaukie.
Last November, the Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a proposal to combine those two service districts. While it was not an official merger, the budgets, operations and assets of Tri-City and CCSD 1 were combined under WES.
It was a move that left the cities unsure of their place in the new system, as the advisory committees that once served as the mouthpiece for cities were temporarily eliminated. For Perry, restoring those advisory committees is crucial as WES continues to make plans for the future.
"Some areas (in the district) need a lot of work — who is going to be paying for that? How will it impact our people?" Perry said. "We are representatives of our voters, we need to be there discussing to understand this."
She pointed to the recent debate over how to handle a treatment capacity issue as an example of the role cities can play in the process. A $56 million proposal to purchase two new anaerobic digesters was eventually whittled down to $37.5 million and one digester.
"After discussion with the cities ... the conclusion was that one (digester) was adequate to take us quite a ways into the future," Perry said. "We don't have any (voice) now, is the problem."
Perry noted that all of the cities have confidence in WES' abilities to run and manage the wastewater system itself. What they want is a voice on policy matters, and in the absence of that the cities would likely explore the change in wastewater management governance structure that was floated several years ago by cities like Oregon City and Gladstone — both of which expressing a desire for more control.
For now, the ball is in the court of the county commissioners, Perry said.
"I would like to have next steps, not just we all talk and nothing happens," she said.