March 6, 2013 | LXXII, No. 49

Engineers lay out rationale, timing for plant project

A rehash of Coulee Dam’s wastewater treatment plant project dominated the town’s regular council meeting last Wednesday night.

Gray & Osborne engineers Jeff Stevens and John Wilson took the council and about 15 people who attended the meeting down memory lane, explaining the time frame and processes used to get the project where it is today.

Just where it is, is a question that’s not easily answered.

Gray & Osborne has been called off the design phase for three months while the town attempts to go through a “value engineering” process to help determine if the cost and scope of the project is the best the town can do.

The town had been pressured to stall the project by community activist Greg Wilder and town officials of Elmer City, who tried successfully to get Coulee Dam to connect with the Colville Tribes and Indian Health Services, with the hopes of developing a new financial partner.

Several hundred tribal families live within the two towns, which has piqued the interest of the tribes.

Wilder, who has had some fiery confrontations with Coulee Dam Mayor Quincy Snow, was at Wednesday’s meetings, again pointing out that the tribes through IHS would only be interested in helping to fund the project if a value engineering study showed that the town was getting the best bang for the buck.

The town had already agreed to do that, and Snow stated that he was looking for funding for the study. Estimates of the cost for the study range from $15,000 to $35,000 or more.

Engineer Wilson said that G&O had been involved with the project since its inception and “at no time did anyone come forward to support an alternate site.”

Wilder contends that was an alternative the engineers should have put forth.

Gray & Osborne engineers contended that utilizing the present wastewater treatment plant made more sense than to have Elmer City proceed with building its own plant. The infrastructure is in place and the permit process that allows the town to discharge its water into the river is already established, the engineers stated.

Elmer City Councilmember Gail Morin brought up that Elmer City residents can’t afford the sewer rates on a $4.92 million plant loan. Elmer City residents now pay $35 a month for sewer service and Coulee Dam residents pay $59 a month.

Larry Holford, another Elmer City councilman, asked if G&O had looked at locating the plant down river someplace when they first got started on the project. Wilson said there had never been any interest in doing so.

Elmer City has about 10 years remaining on a contract agreement with Coulee Dam to accept its wastewater.

Morin said she understood that the contract was invalid. She said that Elmer City is still paying on the initial loan it took out to get the current plant started. The loan agreement is still considered valid and Coulee Dam’s attorney had stated at a joint meeting of the two town councils that if Elmer City didn’t like the agreement, then it should negotiate a new one. This hasn’t been done.

G&O pointed out that Coulee Dam currently has a $4.92 million loan offer from the Department of Ecology, and if the two towns wanted to get their monthly rate down, then they could get a 40-year loan and reduce residents’ monthly charge.

Or as engineer Wilson put it, “If you want to lower rates, get proactive and work with Coulee Dam to get the rates lower.”

Wilder stated that Elmer City would be better off with its own 20-year plan.

After more discussion, Snow stated that Wilder had had his five minutes, and it was time to move on. Wilder thanked Snow for interrupting him and limiting his time.

“There are other paths to the truth, so thank you Quincy for encouraging me to take them,” Wilder said. “Thank you for validating my approach and behavior.” The town limits comments at its council meetings to five minutes.

With that, several of those attending from Elmer City left the meeting.

The action plan of getting money to pay for a “value engineering” study that existed when the meeting got underway, was the same at the end of the evening.

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This story has been corrected to delete a reference to Greg Wilder leaving the meeting, which he did not.

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