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Getting answers to questions on treatment plant

Letters to the Editor


When I have a question, I will ask. When I am not given a sensible answer, I read.

After quietly listening to a public presentation of the present and clear need for a $6.2 million dollar upgrade to the local Wastewater Treatment Plant in early 2012, I asked how is this going to be funded? A loan, I was told. Why haven’t you applied for any grants? I asked. There are none, was the angry response. How do you know if you haven’t applied, I wondered.

The next presentation about a week later was for the $6.2 million dollar project, even though we were told a $2.2 million dollar option would do the job. The presentation was closed to the public. Since it was held in Elmer City with no history of closed-to-the-public meetings, I attended. I wasn’t allowed questions, but the council was and did. There is a clear and present danger of disaster of catastrophic failure, the engineer said. Hmm, I thought. Really! These deficiencies have been apparent since 2004 and now it is a pending disaster?

There was a public meeting in Elmer City a few days later. The standing-room crowd was allowed to ask questions. The price for the project was now $4.9 million. Why has the price changed? That is the limit for borrowing, we heard. We cut contingencies and our fees, the engineer said. Oh, and by the way, Elmer City’s share is 25 percent. You have indebted us for $1.25 million? Yes. Did we agree to this? No. Have you read the 1975 agreement between Coulee Dam and Elmer City? No, we are not aware of any agreement.

So I read. There are several sources of federal grants. There are several alternatives to the 1970s sewer treatment technology. There are several federal loans requiring lesser amounts of interest payments. There are possibilities for hardship relief. None of these sources were seriously considered by the Coulee Dam engineers and council members to help the community. They were offended when the question was asked. Oh, this is getting personal, I thought. But why is it? Shouldn’t we all be concerned? Aren’t we allowed to ask?

The 2012 loan application signed by the Coulee Dam mayor says the population served is 1,025 people. A quick check of the 2010 census shows that is lower than the 1,098 Coulee Dam population count. Why have they not counted Elmer City and the Lone Pine/Riverview area? There was a check mark next to Hardship for domestic wastewater construction. This was denied. We used the 2000 census, I was told.

There was no 2012 loan application for Ecology Grant Funding for 75 percent of the project. It requires an LID or a vote of the people. Too risky a choice and they might say no.

The 2012 application makes no mention of its location on the Colville Indian Reservation. It does mention a “good working relationship” with Elmer City. Elmer City will have significant sewer rate increases and will be provided with updates on the progress of the project. Really! When did that happen?

The Department of Ecology loan agreement was signed on June 25, 2012. I spent the weekend reading.

On page 1 of attachment 1

“D. To my best knowledge and after reasonable investigation, the LOAN agreement does not violate any other agreement …

“E. There is currently no litigation seeking to enjoin the commencement or completion of the PROJECT.”

Sometimes when you read, it causes more questions to surface. Is this project affordable? No. Was this project chosen for efficiency and to protect the great Columbia River? I don’t know. Why after a year hasn’t the town of Coulee Dam applied for a grant? I don’t know. And the most important of all questions: Does the town of Coulee Dam show any response besides anger? I’m beginning to see cracks in the armor.

Gail Morin

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