IRRIGON - The wait is over for Irrigon. It's expanded and improved waste water treatment plant went online Monday, signaling, officials hope, the end of a roadblock that has paralyzed new construction for more than two years.

"This is a huge accomplishment," said City Manager Pat Reay.

The new plant will double Irrigon's sewer capacity, allowing new connections for new homes or businesses.

Irrigon has had a moratorium on development since 2002 because the old treatment plant had reached capacity. The city is in the process of lifting the moratorium, and Reay said Monday there have already been parties interested in building.

Reay said he has discussed a development involving at least six new housing units once permits could be issued.

However, the moratorium cannot be lifted until the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality gives Irrigon's new treatment plant the green light, which is expected. It was the DEQ that urged the city to impose the moratorium in the first place.

The city will now focus on the second phase of its revitalization project - converting all residential septic systems, about 650, to the treatment plant. That could begin by October, Reay said.

Irrigon also needs to upgrade its water supply system. Irrigon residents will vote in November on a $2 million general obligation bond that - if approved - would finance a renovation of the city's water system, which experts say is desperately needed.

The treatment plant is a major accomplishment for a city of less than 1,800.

"Basically, it is a recognition of the growth over the last 10 years," said City Council member Arnold Theisen.

City officials are especially happy to be able to discontinue the drain basins on the north side of Highway 207. A population jump in the 1990s put the ponds near capacity. As of Monday no waste is going into ponds, and Reay said the site will eventually be restored to what it looked like before the basins were installed.

Reay and other city leaders noted that the basins provided an often unpleasant introduction to the city. "The city, as it is now, you smell it before you see it," Reay said.

"It's not a good first impression," Theisen said.

Council member Debi Stratton said the new plant should change everyone's view of the city.

"When people go into Irrigon, they won't (sniff) and say, 'We're in Irrigon.'"

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