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EWEB expands grants to help Holiday Farm Fire survivors rebuild or replace septic systems

Home along river bank.
Adam Spencer
In this undated photo, a home is being rebuilt along the banks of the McKenzie River.

Homeowners in the McKenzie Valley area who lost their septic systems to the Holiday Farm Fire can get money to fix or replace them.

Hundreds of residences were leveled or damaged by the 2020 wildfire. With reconstruction still underway, EWEB says it’s expanded a grant program that will provide up to $35,000 to qualified homeowners.

EWEB spokesperson Aaron Orlowski told KLCC that the utility has to allocate over $1 million before September.

“A septic system is crucial, especially when you’re not hooked up to a city system for plumbing,” said Orlowski. “And it can be expensive, so this particular grant program goes a long way towards helping folks rebuild after that disaster.”

Orlowski added that a functional septic system helps homeowners keep their properties sanitary.

Fire-ravaged ruins of a gas station and convenience store.
Brian Bull
The charred ruins of a gas station and convenience store in Blue River, Oregon as seen on Feb. 19, 2021.

“It’s also great for everyone who lives downstream. Because about 200,000 people depend on the McKenzie River as their sole source of drinking water. Anything that we can all do as a community to prevent septic leaks or that sort of thing from going into the river, that keeps that water quality high.”

Eligibility has expanded to properties within the Holiday Farm Fire footprint, and within the McKenzie Watershed above Hayden Bridge. Other qualifications will depend on household income and type of septic system.

During 2023, EWEB allocated 88 grants, amounting to just over $850,000. The total amount from the utility’s Septic System Repair and Replacement Grants program is about $3 million, according to Orlowski.

Previously, the grants were intended just for properties that sustained damage in the Holiday Farm Fire. The expansion has been made possible due to a collaborative effort between EWEB, Lane County and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Onsite Financial Aid Program (OSFAP).

Both Lane County and DEQ received funds from the federal American Recovery Plan Act and teamed up with EWEB to distribute the money to affected residents.

In a release, EWEB specifies the criteria applicants must meet to receive Septic System Grants:

Applicant must be the current property owner.

Septic system repairs or installation must be completed by the property owner or a Licensed Onsite System Installer, certified by the DEQ.

Completed septic projects must be inspected by Lane County, with permit status listed as “final.”

If applicants are outside of the Holiday Farm Fire footprint, they must have a household income below 300% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

EWEB encourages those needing to repair or replace septic systems within the above eligible areas to complete the short application to see how much they could qualify to receive.

Copyright 2024, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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