Discussions were polite but initially tense as Elmer City officials met with their Coulee Dam counterparts Friday at Elmer City Hall on proposed sewer plant upgrades that both towns would pay for.
“What we want to know is, are we a partner or are we a customer?” said Elmer City Councilmember Larry Holford. He said they’d hired a lawyer to find out.
The legal question stems from a 50-year interlocal contract that appears to give Coulee Dam the power to make maintenance decisions on its own and charge Elmer City proportionally by the volume they send through the plant.
So Elmer City is now faced with 25 percent of a planned $6.2 million upgrade to the wastewater treatment facility that serves both towns.
Elmer City had a population of 238 in 2010, according to the U.S. Census.
Aside from mayors and council members, each town’s head of maintenance attended, as well as engineers from Gray and Osborne, the Yakima firm hired to design the upgrades.
Elmer City Mayor Mary Jo Carey also pressed on the customer/partner question, but asked why other sources of funding had not been sought, namely the Colville Tribes and the Indian Health Service, which recently helped Elmer City with a water project.
Coulee Dam Mayor Quincy Snow said he had written to them, but had received no response.
“They said they were never approached,” Carey responded.
Elmer City Councilmember Donna DeWinkler pressed on several technical questions about cheaper ways to accomplish upgrades, as did town superintendent Jimmer Tillman, who also questioned why Grand Coulee Dam’s sewer service isn’t metered.
Engineer David VanCleve said the planning progression has taken nine years so far, and Coulee Dam city officials have been presented with options along the way.
DeWinkler said it would have been better if Elmer City had been consulted, too, because they might have decided to build their own plant.
The meeting broke up to get a first-hand tour of the plant in question.
“I think you’ll see as we go through this,” said Coulee Dam Councilmember Karl Hjorton, “that we’re not trying to build some kind of Cadillac.”
Elmer City is waiting on a legal opinion.