Elmer City is still trying to figure out if the town is a partner or a customer in its relationship with Coulee Dam and the wastewater treatment plant. And it will likely take the opinion of legal eagles to fully determine the issue.
About 20 people attended a town hall meeting last Thursday night in Elmer City and listened to Greg Wilder explain his views on the proposed $4.992 million treatment plant project.
Wilder asserted the following points:
• that the Coulee Dam plant problems could be addressed for about $2.1 million, or even less.
• that Coulee Dam’s total price on the project could be as high as $6.2 million.
• that it might take legal action to stop the project.
• that Coulee Dam didn’t involve the Colville Tribes until just recently, and has not gone through its permit process.
• that the engineering cost is unusually high, exceeding $1.25 million.
• that agencies he has contacted suggest that Coulee Dam is overbuilding.
He also raised issue with the town’s efforts to get a lower cost loan. Coulee Dam Town Council voted at its last meeting to instruct engineering firm Gray & Osborne to submit an application to the Public Works Trust Fund for a 1-percent interest loan to replace its successful application for a 2.7-percent loan from the Department of Ecology. Wilder said that this is illegal and can’t be done.
Coulee Dam made its application to the Public Works Trust Fund before the May 31 deadline and an official stated that it should hear if it is successful sometime in August. The town would save the difference between the 2.7 percent and 1 percent interest charges on the 20-year loan, almost two-thirds of the interest cost.
Wilder got a lot of support from Elmer City residents, who showed up for the two-hour, question-and-answer session, organized by Mayor Mary Jo Carey and conducted by Wilder.
Wilder, who has long been on the outs with Coulee Dam officials, stated: “I am really irritated the way Coulee Dam has treated me and others.”
Wilder has made long lists of public document requests to the extent that Coulee Dam is advertising for a documents clerk to be added to the town staff.
Jim “Jimmer” Tillman, Elmer City’s public works director, stated that the wastewater treatment plant has become a “cash cow” for Coulee Dam, putting some $60,000 a year into the town’s general fund.
“They should have been putting that money back into the plant all this time,” Tillman said.
Wilder said that if Coulee Dam would do only what was necessary now, it would drastically cut increases in the monthly sewer bill that residents of both towns face. The $5 million project will push sewer rates in Elmer City to $89.34 a month, and $87.05 a month in Coulee Dam.
If the project scope was held to $2.1 million, the rates would be $64.84 in Elmer City and $62.65 in Coulee Dam.
Wilder proposed a “two-tier” approach, only doing what needs to be done now, then upgrading later if necessary.
“If they took this approach, you could get the cost down substantially,” Wilder said.
He said the way the project is planned, there are redundancies for everything, none of them necessary.
“All this does is run the costs up,” he claimed. “If Coulee Dam would bring in a consultant to help it determine what the need is, then I think you could fix any problem for a lot less than even the $2.1 million.”
Coulee Dam and its engineers, Gray & Osborne, have taken the approach that they should build a plant that will last for the next 35-40 years. One Coulee Dam official had stated, “We don’t want to leave the problem to our kids to fix.”
The project includes fixing a sludge problem and an odor problem and also the end water that is dumped into the Columbia River.
“I haven’t noticed any odor problem,” Wilder said, “but they won’t let me into the plant,” he said.
Mayor Carey said Elmer City has hired a Spokane attorney to go over the 50-year agreement between the two towns in regard to Coulee Dam receiving Elmer City’s waste flow for treatment.
She said that she called Coulee Dam and invited Mayor Quincy Snow, his council, and their town attorney to attend Elmer City’s regular council meeting June 7, but officials there said they couldn’t come that night.
“It looks like the only way we can stop it is legally, and Elmer City probably doesn’t want that expense,” Wilder said.
Cherie Moomaw, a member of the Colville Business Council, was present at the meeting and stated that she was “appalled that the Tribes hadn’t been a part of the discussion earlier.” She said she was going to bring the problem to the attention of the Colville Business Council.
Wilder said there are 154 tribal families in the two towns.