Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley toured an old water treatment plant on the Warm Springs reservation on Monday, May 22, 2023. (Maggie Sunstrum for U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley)
The state’s two U.S. senators visited the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs reservation in central Oregon on Monday to celebrate a $28 million federal grant for a new water treatment facility.
Hundreds of tribal members have faced successive boil water notices and a temporary shutdown last March due to a fire at the plant, which was built in 1981. The Indian Health Service has promised about $13.6 million for a new plant, and the Environmental Protection agency has earmarked nearly $10.3 million. U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley obtained another $5 million through the latest government funding package that President Joe Biden signed into law, a release said.
Wyden said the reservation, home to about 4,000 members, has waited a long time for the money.
“Today’s news takes a significant step forward to reversing that shameful and shambolic legacy of burst pipes and boil water notices for tribal families and small businesses,” Wyden said.
Merkley concurred: “I’ve been amazed by the Warm Springs’ grit and ingenuity to overcome the outdated system and continue to provide water to the community.”
The plant is in the design phase, and it could take up to five years to be finished. It will be located next to the current plant and treat water from the Deschutes River, providing the reservation with safe, high-quality water, the release said.
Also Monday, the senators announced a nearly $3 million grant for much-needed housing on the Warm Springs reservation and the rehabilitation of a Burns Paiute cultural center in eastern Oregon. The U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department, through an Indian block grant program, awarded most of the money – $2 million – to the Warm Springs tribe to build eight homes for lower-income members. A Warm Springs executive in charge of housing said in a news release that the reservation faces a housing crisis.
“There are not enough homes for the families in the community, which results in many families living in overcrowded and substandard conditions,” said Danielle Wood, executive director of the Warm Springs Housing Authority. “Being able to provide an additional eight affordable and energy-efficient housing units will truly be a gift to our community. It will be a joy seeing the smiles on families’ faces when they enter their new home for the first time.”
Jamie Burleigh, who works under Wood, told the Capital Chronicle that those eight homes will be the first of a planned 32-unit development. She said the housing authority will seek federal funds to pay for the rest and that the homes will be rented or sold, based on federal guidelines. Public housing under Housing and Urban Development is available to those earning up to 80% of the median income level, and it backs 30-year income adjusted mortgages to cap monthly payments.
Among the hundreds of people on the reservation, a few are on the streets, Burleigh said. The Native housing authority is planning to build 10 one-bedroom, 600-square-feet homes, and it’s working on a $4.8 million supportive housing project that is funded by state and federal money.
“We’re getting ready to close with the state,” Burleigh said.
She didn’t have details about how much Oregon has earmarked for the project, nor how many homes the reservation needs. She said the authority plans to do a housing assessment.
“We don’t have enough homes for the demand,” Burleigh said. “We have a waiting list.”
The rest of the money – nearly $1 million – is going to the Burns Paiute Tribe in eastern Oregon to rehabilitate the Tukwahone Cultural and Heritage Center. About 210 tribal members live on the reservation near Burns. The culture center is in downtown Burns.
A spokeswoman said in a statement that the tribe was “incredibly grateful” to receive the grant.
“It will be a welcoming space where our culture can be seen and experienced through historical artifacts and multimedia storytelling as well as through the retail sales of traditional handcrafted wares,” said Tracy Kennedy, director of planning and economic development for the tribe.
She said the building also will be used as a business incubator for tribal members, spurring innovation and growth.
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