WESTPORT - The Clatsop County commissioners on Wednesday approved an increase in sewer rates for Westport that will double the bills for residents and businesses in the east-county community.

The rate hike, the first in 12 years, will raise rates for residential customers from $16.50 a month to $33.61. Commercial rates will go up to $77.31 a month.

The increase will pay for improvements to the local wastewater treatment plant required by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, which has ordered the county to reduce chlorine emissions from the facility.

The improvement project will be funded by a $1 million grant from the Community Development Block Grant program and a $112,250 DEQ loan.

The rate increase will cover the cost of the loan, but even without the improvements a rate hike would be necessary, Public Works Director Ed Wegner said in a memo to the commissioners.

The current rates, which were set in 1993, raise only $33,100 a year, an amount that doesn't cover the wastewater plant's annual operating costs of almost $50,000. The loan will cost another $8,000 a year, and the department also wants to raise an additional $10,000 a year to cover future equipment replacement.

The plant has been operating under a notice of noncompliance from DEQ since 2001.

The project will include upgrades to the treatment plant and pump stations, and replacement of the chlorine disinfection system with an untraviolet process. The public works department plans to pick a contractor this fall, and the project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

In other business the commissioners agreed to delay action on a proposal to put a piece of shorefront property on Smith Lake up for sale.

The property was one of 27 county-owned parcels the board was asked to declare as sell-able by the county's property specialist. But Smith Lake residents, dozens of whom attended Wednesday's meeting, worry that they would lose access to a boat launch located on the property if the land was sold.

The commissioners will consider the Smith Lake lot at a later date.

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