The patience of several Ashland City Council members is wearing noticeably thin when it comes to paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for infrastructure master plans — but a council majority still approved spending $303,400 for a sewage master plan.

The patience of several City Council members is wearing noticeably thin when it comes to paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for infrastructure master plans, but a council majority still approved spending $303,400 for a sewage master plan.

The Tuesday night decision brings total spending on sewage, transportation and water master plans to $1,084,136. State grants will offset $343,000, leaving the city to pay $741,136 of the cost.

City Councilman Russ Silbiger reluctantly voted to approve a contract with Idaho-based Keller Associates, which has a Salem office, to prepare a sewage master plan.

Funding for the plan will come from fees that are charged on new development, which increases demand on the sewage system.

Silbiger said he is frustrated that the money isn't being spent on actual work on the sewage system.

"We're taking money that could have been used to do something to create more studies," he said.

"They end up in a drawer," Silbiger added later.

Councilman David Chapman, who was the only one to vote against approving the sewage master plan contract, went even further.

"The next time I hear 'comprehensive master plan,' I'm going to throw up," he said.

Since December 2009, the council has approved contracts for water, transportation and sewage master plans.

Mayor John Stromberg defended funding the plans. On the sewage system, for example, the city doesn't know whether it's charging the right amount to cover the actual costs of running the system now and in the future, he said.

The master plan will include financial analyses.

"There could be something lurking in the future that could be a financial disaster," Stromberg said.

City officials do know that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is mandating that they find a way to stop releasing warm treated sewage effluent into Ashland Creek near the dog park. The warm effluent could harm fish because it raises the temperature of the creek water.

The sewage master plan will include an examination of methods and costs for meeting the DEQ mandate. Options include cooling the effluent before it's emptied into the creek and sprinkling it on a city-owned hillside across Interstate 5 from town. Using the effluent for irrigation at places such as Oak Knoll Public Golf Course could also help augment Ashland's limited water supply.

Ashland Engineering Technician Scott Fleury said the sewage master plan will examine sewage pipes throughout the city, flow issues, whether the city should continue to use costly membrane filters at its sewage treatment plant, and whether the current practice of sending sewage solids to a local landfill is the best strategy.

Public Works Director Mike Faught said the city has $40 million invested in its sewage treatment system.

Faught acknowledged that he had given Keller Associates, which submitted the lowest bid for the sewage master plan, a letter of support. He said he stayed out of the selection process because of that.

Faught said the city does have other sewage system studies that are five years old, but those look at issues such as sewage collection and system capacity in a piecemeal fashion.

The master plan will create a road map for the sewage system for the next 50 years, according to city staff.

The water master plan will project demand out to 2058, according to city documents.

The city of Ashland stores Ashland Creek water above town in Reeder Reservoir. The water treatment plant is below the reservoir. Both the reservoir and water treatment plant are at risk from landslides, floods and forest fires.

The potable water supply is also limited, which led to mandatory water curtailment in 2009 when reservoir levels dropped.

The water master plan will look at a variety of sources, including connecting to Medford's water supply, treating and using Talent Irrigation District water for potable water and using treated sewage effluent for irrigation to conserve potable water. The plan also will look at conservation and possible impacts from climate change.

Faught said the separate firms that are working on the water and sewage master plans will coordinate on the potential for reusing treated sewage effluent for irrigation.

The transportation master plan will guide infrastructure planning for vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.