Septic systems are sending money and water down the drain for some Terrebonne businesses, but a vote next week could change that.
The passage of Measure 9-156 in the March 14 Deschutes County special election would create the Terrebonne Sanitary District, a board that would oversee the financing and implementation of a sewer system in a series of phases.
It’s the first time the issue has been put to a vote, as septic systems have been the norm in the town of 1,600 for years.
For Oliver Lemons grocery store, the septic system has been a constant battle — and a money pit.
“We have spent over half a million dollars to repair the drain field and the septic system at this location,” said Lauren Redman, the President and CEO of parent company Newport Avenue Market. “If our field were to fail, our store would close, and we employ over 30 people.”
Half of their drain field has already failed, meaning they have to carefully limit things like flushing toilets during the day in order to not overload the system.
The main culprit for the septic system challenge is Terrebonne’s rocky plateau terrain and lack of topsoil, which makes proper drainage a challenge.
It’s a problem that drove Parker Vernon to push for a change. He lived in Terrebonne for years while running his family’s property management business, and made a shocking discovery in the process.
“I was going through some old files and I found a 1996 Terrebonne Sewer Feasibility study. It stated that out of Deschutes County, Terrebonne had a 50% higher septic failure rate than the rest of the county,” Vernon said.
He approached the County Commission about the issue, and he said they told him that there was not enough public interest in the matter to make any changes.
Vernon set out to prove them wrong- gathering 100 signatures on a petition requesting a new feasibility study. The results of that study pointed to the benefits of a sewer system, leading to the vote next Thursday.
But only around 150 people can actually vote on the measure, because they’re the ones living in the zone of Phase A, where the sewage system would be implemented first. It includes most of Terrebonne’s businesses, and it’s the first of three phases where the sewer system would be installed over time.
That phase system is where a lot of voters take issue.
“The biggest pushback that we’ve had has not been anything regarding sewer or costing. It’s been about the application of the phase system versus doing an overarching sewer expansion in the area,” Vernon said.
That’s not to mention hookup costs to a city sewer system, which could range from $4,000 to $10,000 for the average resident.
But it’s a cost many still believe is worth it for a system they can count on for years to come.
“It really does mean the livelihood of all of our employees, certainly our business and the livelihood of Terrebonne,” Redman said.
Vernon said some businesses have already shut down over septic system failures, including the Sun Spot Diner.
“Without these businesses or residential areas being serviced, we’re going to eventually lose Terrebonne, which is going to be a big problem,” Vernon said.
Voters have until 8 pm on March 14th to turn in their ballots. Only 18 ballots had been turned in on Thursday afternoon.
If the measure is passed, the board will still need to apply for funding to make the project happen. It could take 3-5 years to start a sewer system in phase A alone.
Those vying for board positions if the measure passes include Vernon’s father Guy Vernon, Tim Brown, Mariah Patel, and Kristen Yurdin.
You can read the full wording of the measure here.