Transitioning To In-House Wastewater Management January 08, 2021

Nearly 25 years ago, the City chose to enter into a public-private partnership by outsourcing the operations and maintenance of the City’s stormwater and wastewater utility to Operations Management International, Inc (OMI), a subsidiary of CH2MHill. The City’s wastewater/ stormwater utility is the largest municipal wastewater utility on the Oregon coast. Our sewer and stormwater collection infrastructure, along with our sewer treatment system, includes approximately 90 miles of pipe, 2,572 manholes, 1,867 stormwater catch basins, 57 stormwater tide gates, 25 pump stations, two wastewater treatment plants, and a sludge disposal system.

In 1996, the City Council chose to outsource the operations and maintenance of the utility over self-performing with City staff as it was believed there would be long-term financial savings and that OMI would be able to operate the plants at optimum efficiency and in compliance with the ever-increasing regulations and restrictions.

 While the ownership of OMI has changed several times since. we began contracting out the operations and maintenance of the utility which helped to realize the goal of a multiyear financial savings.

Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. The City recently received a substantial rate increase from Jacobs, the current parent company of OMI. In addition, over the past several years, we have experienced numerous regulatory non-compliance issues. Due to cost and non-compliance related issues, the City undertook an evaluation of potential alternatives, including taking over the day-to-day operations and maintenance of the City owned utility. Given the evaluation alternatives, the Council voted unanimously at their meeting on January 5 to take over operating the utility beginning in July.

The City is working with an experienced wastewater consultant who has helped other municipalities in transitioning back to operating their utilities. City staff and the consultant are putting together a transition plan, so we are prepared in July to begin managing the citizen’s utility.  A senior CH2MHill executive at Jacobs has pledged that they will be supportive of the transition process and will work collaboratively with the City. 

-Joe Benetti, Mayor of Coos Bay