A tale of two cities … continued
Letters to the Editor
The saga continues. At the advice and suggestion of the state Department of Ecology (DOE), Coulee Dam extended the Olive Branch to Elmer City… well, sort of; they suggested a meeting between the two towns’ mayors to “explain” the reasons for the $5 - $7 million project.
The meeting was held on Friday morning (at Elmer City). At first that meeting was scheduled between the two mayors and the Coulee Dam engineer. Then Coulee Dam added their public works superintendent… so Elmer City added theirs. Then Coulee Dam decided to include an additional engineer and two of their council members and Elmer City added two of its council members. Still a stacked deck, but the Elmer City tenacity and effective probing would prove to be the equalizer in the end.
Knowing that Elmer City rarely closes its doors to the public, I decided to go … to listen … to take notes. I tried at first to enter but found there, bigger than life, the Coulee Dam mayor (Snow) blocking the doorway to Elmer City hall! Standing there with his hands pressed up against the door frame as if even to block a stray mouse, he was quite a sight! There were others behind me, waiting to get in too, and he huffed and he puffed and finally uttered, “Wilder, this is a Coulee Dam meeting and it’s closed to the public… you’re not welcome here!”
Wow, I thought, I must have taken the wrong turn and ended up at Coulee Dam Town hall! But no, I really was in Elmer City, albeit now apparently annexed by Coulee Dam! So I stood tall (I did have my cowboy boots on, after all) huffed and puffed a bit myself and demanded he stand aside to let us pass. He exhaled and lost his advantage and scurried off to complain to the Elmer City mayor!
More blue smoke and mirrors from the engineer, more excuses and reasons from Coulee Dam … yet no substantive demonstration that the huge expenditure was/is necessary. Yes, “we would like a new building” and “the expensive bio-selector will make it easier for us to operate the sewer treatment plant.” “Buffering the pH causes too many problems so we will buffer only a little - sometimes… maybe…” But, through it all, no apologies, nor reasons, no explanations as to why the town of Coulee Dam didn’t include Elmer City, the Tribe, the USBR, or others as it planned the project and ultimately decided to design and build it. And NO willingness for a project peer review/analysis.
At the meeting Coulee Dam seemed confused as to if or not Elmer City was a “partner” or, as the Coulee Dam town clerk put it, “just another customer!” I suppose she could have said “just another 250 customers.” Then, with a stroke of divine enlightenment, a Coulee Dam representative uttered; “It’s up to Elmer City to decide if they want to be our PARTNER or not!” Parenthetically that means, and skipping an obvious and more applicable metaphor, “We are going to consummate the marriage with or without a license!” This seems to imply that Coulee Dam doesn’t really need its customers. Without Elmer City, the cost to Coulee Dam residents will be huge (and still unnecessary).
The “engineer” did let us all know that they represent small communities for a reason. They are “looking out for their (our) best interests.” In closing, let’s put that wonderful benevolence into perspective. The engineering budget is 25 percent (about $1,25 million) of the total project. And, according to the engineer’s own estimate, they intend to charge this 25 percent for everything, including for things for which they put forth no effort, like on sales taxes and Tribal TERO! Let’s compare that to another sewer facility/system (treatment plant) in Washington… with a highly qualified engineering firm. Their fees are about 15 percent … 40 percent less than we are paying. And they aren’t assessing fees on state sales taxes either! You gotta wonder what is meant by “looking out for the best interest of the small community” means! And you gotta wonder who would negotiate/approve a contract with these rates!
I took the time to look at other projects and without exception they all (except Coulee Dam) included this (or a similar) statement in their Facility Plan: “Public involvement is a key component of the Sewer District’s preliminary and final design activities for a New Sewage Collection and Treatment System. By drawing input from a wide range of interested parties the District maximizes the prospect of an appropriate project design and stakeholder commitment.” Then there is Coulee Dam with its closed-door committee meeting policy and their attempts to keep us all in the dark… but why?
I remain stalwart and focused on the best for this (these) communities and I also remain,