Two town councils meet on multi-million dollar questions
Taking part in last week’s joint counicl meeting were, around the table from left: from Coulee Dam, council members Andy Trader, Karl Hjorten, Ben Alling, Bob Poch, Ken Miles, Attorney Mick Howe, Clerk Carol Visker and Mayor Quincy Snow; from Elmer City, Mayor Mary Jo Carey, Clerk Renée Tillman, Attorney Laura D. McAloon, and council members Jeff DeWinkler, Donna DeWinkler, Don Bonertz and Larry Holford. — Scott Hunter photo
Elmer City had stated that it wanted a seat at the table.
Last Wednesday night, its town council met with Coulee Dam’s council, and it got a seat at the table, but significant questions remain.
At issue is a $4.92 million wastewater treatment plant upgrade now under design.
Foremost in Elmer City’s mind was whether it was a partner in Coulee Dam’s wastewater treatment plant, or merely a customer.
While that wasn’t answered directly, Elmer City was advised that anytime in the future that Coulee Dam was going to discuss its planned wastewater treatment plant, Elmer City would be invited.
Both councils had their respective attorneys present: Mick Howe for Coulee Dam and Laura D. McAloon for Elmer City.
After a long discussion between council members of both towns, attorney Howe asked, “Does it really make a difference whether you are a partner or a customer?”
Howe and others said the current 37-year-old agreement between the two towns is open for discussion and change. The agreement was made in 1975.
“You could start a new agreement going forward,” Howe said, adding that the existing language doesn’t really benefit Elmer City.
Attorney McAloon concurred that the agreement could stand some new language.
However, no one followed up on how this would happen. A suggestion that the two attorneys could exchange emails was met by Howe’s comment, “I think it is premature for that.”
The “partner or a customer” question was asked repeatedly by Elmer City Councilmember Larry Holford.
“I have trouble with that word,” Howe said. “I think you are setting yourself up for a stalemate.” He said other language could be inserted that would help solve the underlying problem.
But McAloon said the question was being asked because there would be no use in writing new language if it didn’t start from the premise that Elmer City should have a voice in the planning process.
“I would be really hesitant to say you are a partner if that means that you could vote and say, ‘Well, we don’t want to do the whole thing,’” Coulee Dam Councilmember Ken Miles said. “I mean … we have gone to a lot of work here.”
The project is currently in the design phase and is scheduled to go to bid in the spring with construction completed by 2014.
Elmer City has repeatedly asked why, since it produces one-quarter of what goes through the plant, it wasn’t involved in the planning of the plant.
Coulee Dam Councilmember Karl Hjorten stated that on two occasions Elmer City Council was invited for wastewater plant presentations by Coulee Dam engineers Gray & Osborne. At one of the meetings, no one showed up, and at the other only Town Clerk Renée Tillman attended.
Regardless of what’s happened in the past Hjorten said, “The question for me is, where do we go right now?” He said he was open to forming an entirely new agreement that reflects current reality.
Coulee Dam Town Clerk Carol Visker said that Elmer City’s portion of the project bill as planned would come to about $82,000 a year.
Of concern to Elmer City is the monthly service charges it will take to retire the debt on the project. Mayor Mary Jo Carey has repeatedly stated that her residents are mostly on fixed income and couldn’t take the projected high sewer charges.
Barry Peacock, Coulee Dam’s public works director, said recent interruptions may delay to some extent the timing of the project. He proposed that maybe a committee made up of a couple of council members from each town might pursue changes in the agreement.
Mayor Quincy Snow said that meetings continue with the Colville Tribes, Indian Health Services and the Bureau of Reclamation on how they might participate in the funding of the project.
If those groups come aboard, it could signicantly reduce the monthly sewer charges in both towns.
Two meetings of these parties have already been held, and Snow said that when the next meeting was held all the parties would be invited.
The plant has become a major issue with Elmer City in the past few months after Coulee Dam resident Greg Wilder raised questions about the project at Elmer City council meetings.