August 1, 2012 | LXXII, No. 18

Elmer City asks Coulee Dam to reconsider sewer plant project

Mayor says burg could cease as municipality

Elmer City Mayor Mary Jo Carey told Coulee Dam’s town council last Wednesday night that high wastewater treatment rates could spell the end of Elmer City as a town.

“We just can’t afford the high rates proposed and may have to go back into Okanogan County,” she said as she pleaded with Coulee Dam to take a new look at its $4.9 million wastewater treatment project.

She seemed to endorse Coulee Dam resident Greg Wilder’s plea for a $2.7 million version of the same project.

He spoke last Wednesday night before the Coulee Dam council and said the town wouldn’t suffer any need or efficiency if it went with the smaller version project.

He, along with Carey, asked Coulee Dam officials to try to fund part of the project through grants, including the seeking of a grant from Indian Health Services. IHS recently completed an $800,000 water project for Elmer City on a grant that didn’t cost the town a cent.

Wilder asked Mayor Quincy Snow if Coulee Dam had already executed its loan with the Department of Ecology, and Snow answered, “Yes.”

Snow did indicate that he plans to get on the Colville Business Council agenda soon so he can discuss the project with the tribes.

The town had been accused of not contacting the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation about the project; however, the town produced a letter sent to the tribes by its engineering firm, Gray & Osborne, back in October, 2010, in which the tribes had been identified as a possible consulting party. The letter was mis-directed and didn’t reach the right official party, Snow said.

The issue of whether Elmer City was a customer of Coulee Dam as far as the present wastewater treatment plant is concerned, or a partner, resurfaced.

Snow said that it might be up to their lawyers to decide on the intent of a 50-year-long agreement between the two towns.

Elmer City has maintained that it is a partner, not just a customer, and that it wasn’t properly consulted in the planning and extent of the project. Carey said her town attorney’s reading of the agreement is that it was a partner.

She said the town, home to about 245 people, didn’t want to “go to court” over the matter.

Currently, Elmer City residents pay $35 a month for sewer service. Officials there say that the rate would nearly double if the larger wastewater treatment plant project goes in.

Former Elmer City council member Gail Morin said, “Our citizens can’t afford the high monthly rates; it’s as simple as that.”

Wilder kept referring to a $6 million project, and Coulee Dam Councilmember Karl Hjorten kept pushing back at $4.9 million. Wilder said, “I got a pool on it going higher, do you want to get in?” Hjorten said, “Yes.”

Morin chipped in again. “If you go with the more expensive project,” she said, “we may have to go another way; we just can’t afford it. We already have two years to go on our original loan ... you’ll have to buy us out.”

While all the exchanges were cordial, the two towns still seem miles apart.

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