November 21, 2012 | LXXII, No. 34

Town agrees to explore options on sewer plant

Sewer ratepayers in Coulee Dam and Elmer City won the day last Wednesday night when many of the major parties in the wastewater treatment plant were on hand and agreed to work together.

The scene was Coulee Dam’s council meeting with a presentation by Gray & Osborne, the town’s engineering firm, which was reporting on its progress on the design phase of the project.

Engineer Jeff Stevens made a short presentation and then stated, “We need direction from the council on where we go from here.”

Local resident Greg Wilder had preceded Stevens and laid out a plan suggesting, among other things, that the town should delay the project while its scope was carefully examined and more financial players could come onboard.

He even agreed to help with some of the details.

This time no one turned him down.

Council members one by one stated a desire to look at the plan more carefully and to spend some time trying to add some financial partners, such as the Tribes, Indian Health Services and the Bureau of Reclamation, to the mix.

Previously, the idea of Elmer City being a “partner” in the Coulee Dam wastewater treatment plant was stifled, but cooperation seemed to bloom Wednesday night:

- Wilder said he would be happy to assist the town in the process of applying, through the Colville Tribes for Indian Health Services financial assistance. No one turned him down.

- Gray and Osborne stated that it would be willing to work with both the Bureau of Reclamation and Indian Health Services on funding methods and on the scope of the project.

- Elmer City Councilmember Larry Holford said he would work with the Tribes in regard to Indian Health Services funding, and to see if the Tribes would waive or reduce its TERO fees (5-percent of costs for building on the reservation).

- Elmer City Mayor Mary Jo Carey praised IHS for the way it worked with her town during a recent water project. “They were great to work with and it didn’t cost our town anything,” she noted.

- The ratepayers may now have some glimmer of hope that they won’t be looking at outrageous sewer bills to pay for the $4.92 million project that is gradually growing in cost. Stevens projected that the cost of the plant as currently outlined had grown $100,000 since his last presentation.

Wilder stated that the Department of Ecology is already on record that they will hold the loan in abeyance for a considerable time while parties work on a revised plan. He said it would be possible to run parallel tracks on funding and design, having the two move forward at the same time. He also stated that IHS, while a promising partner, wouldn’t have its funds available until October, 2014.

Such a plan could include up to a $1.6 million investment by IHS. Nearly 250 Indian families live within the project’s service area, providing a reason for the agency to get involved.

It could also include some kind of participation by the Bureau of Reclamation which has its own wastewater treatment plant in the Third Powerhouse at Grand Coulee Dam. It, according to Wilder, spends about $100,000 a year on the plant.

“They might be willing to participate through some kind of a rate structure,” Wilder stated.

Three council members and the mayor from Elmer City were on hand for the meeting. Elmer City had been assured a week earlier that it would be invited to any future discussions on the wastewater treatment plant. They were delighted and encouraged that they had a spot at the decision table.

Coulee Dam Councilmember Bob Poch said, “If we are going to start meeting on this, let’s get on with it.”

Councilmember Ben Alling, who was sitting in for Mayor Quincy Snow, stated, “If this will cut costs to our ratepayers, we need to look into it.” Others agreed.

What it all means is that the plant, as previously planned, will not happen anytime soon. All the players seemed willing to slow things down, cooperate, and come up with the best plan for the two town’s ratepayers.

The timeline had included going out for bid in 2013 and finish construction in 2014.

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