May 2, 2012 | LXXII, No. 5

A Tale of Two Cities

Letters to the Editor

No, not a story of two late 16th century cities facing good and bad times, but rather a more contemporary story of another Dickens metaphor… one of belief and one of incredulity. The cities – Elmer City and Coulee Dam. The time – the last quarter of the 20th century.

I’m not typically prone to conspiracy theories nor elaborate exaggerations. And with that said, I’m going to unwind a story for you based upon real records, real events, and very real agreements. A story defined by a 1975 partnership contract between the town of Coulee Dam and the town of Elmer City. A story steeped in conspiracy and one that reads like every nuance must be exaggerated for theatrical effect. A good novel, if you will. But, and alas, the exaggerations are actually very real, and as for a conspiracy – the odds are growing!

Not long ago, the town of Coulee Dam decided, with little advanced notice to its “partner,” Elmer City, or the broader impacted community (including the Bureau of Reclamation and the Colville Tribe), that it would begin the process of defining a future that would impact the region in a financially crippling way. They tasked their engineer with preparing a Wastewater Facilities Plan that the very same engineer recommended they prepare. Confused yet? Oh, it gets better! The town then decided to pay this same engineer $1,251,500 for services related to the facility they had recommended in the plan they prepared for the town based upon the engineer’s recommendation. Whew, now I’m confused! And to add further to the confusion (and concerns) – there was no peer review, no independent analysis of need, no sustentative analysis of alternatives. This whole process gives a new definition to “conflict of interest.” To be fair, the town of Coulee Dam did host a joint council meeting between the two towns to define the problem and the needs, and to “tell” Elmer City what the solution was … a meeting that was more of an “update” than a partnership/consensus-building process.

But let’s put all this into some historical perspective … back to the “Tale of Two Cities.” I used that pesky Public Records Act again (the one mayor Snow would like to see abolished) to review hundreds of pages of documents including the 1975 agreement between the two towns. Missing from the requested document stack of public records was the actual executed Agreement and a Supplemental Agreement entered into a year later. I asked the town clerk for them and was told; “Greg, that’s all there is.” So I made the same request of Elmer City… they provided me with the documents. You just gotta wonder. By now you might be thinking; “Why, oh why, would anyone want to know these things anyway?!” I do. I want to know who is, and why we, are going to pay between $5 million and $7 million for a new sewer treatment plant we really don’t need, can’t afford to buy, and aren’t required to build … and now I know the “who is” part. If you guessed Coulee Dam, like I initially did, you only get a 75-percent grade for that answer.

Thirty-seven years ago, the two towns (Elmer City and Coulee Dam) entered into a lopsided 50-year (yup, that’s 50) agreement wherein Coulee Dam can do as they wish and Elmer City apparently has no choice but to concur (at least that’s what the town clerk told the council). Sort of like an Ira Levin Stepford wife! They can’t even get out of the “partnership” since Article 5 reads; “this Agreement may only be terminated by mutual consent.” They became married, so to speak. Yet Coulee Dam has chosen to ignore the traditional partnership paradigm wherein “decisions” are made by cooperative involvement and consensus and compromise. Decisions made in an environment where the words like “consensus” and “compromise” are operative BEFORE the decisions, before the commitment(s).

Coulee Dam, just last month, provided Elmer City (their partner) with a copy of the $70,000 “Plan” that was completed well over a year ago! I had to get my copy from the state. Then, with equal arrogance, Coulee Dam spent another $103,000 of Elmer City money to pay for their “share” of the design engineering for a facility that really isn’t necessary at all. And these costs are really only chump change… Coulee Dam has, in this year’s budget, over $4 million to start building the new plant and, you guessed it, Elmer City will have to come up with about $1.6 million for their share (in total, that’s about $13,000 from each home owner) … shhhh, they don’t know that yet… tell them in the morning when they wake up!

I’m embarrassed and ashamed that my town, Coulee Dam, has allowed itself to be managed by a consultant from Yakima and a town clerk from Coulee City while our arrogant mayor and some of our city council have taken advantage of having the world’s largest sand pile in town … the perfect place to validate the ostrich with its head in the sand metaphor!

Greg Wilder

Reader Comments