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Grant help denied, smaller sewer plant plan to be proposed

 

Wastewater treatment operator Tim Lynch checks bags of sludge at the Coulee Dam plant before they are hauled off to the Grant County landfill in Ephrata. The sludge is sacked, and then placed out to dry five to six months before being hauled to the landfill. The new proposed wastewater treatment plant in Coulee Dam would upgrade the way sludge is handled. The town has a temporary permit to take the material to the landfill site. — Roger S. Lucas photo

A solution to the Coulee Dam wastewater treatment plant controversy that could satisfy a large number of the stakeholders could come next Wednesday night when the council meets.

Councilmember Karl Hjorten said Tuesday that he plans to make a motion next Wednesday to move forward on the project doing only what is necessary to take care of the sludge, chemical levels and rotor problems.

This would cut the costs of the project down to around $2 million to $2.5 million, Hjorten stated. Currently the project stands to cost about $5 million.

Hjorten three months ago made a motion to move forward with the larger project, but it died for lack of a second from other town council members. The council decided to stop progress on the plans for three months so that there would be time for a value engineering study to be done. It never was done.

At that time it was hoped that Indian Health Services and the Colville Tribes might become a financial partner in the project.

Those hopes were dashed when an April 3 letter from the IHS to the Tribes stated that IHS cannot recommend the project as presented in the wastewater facility plan because that plan lacked key components, essentially backing up public critics of the plan.

The town was proposing a $5 million re-do of its existing plant and the engineering firm Gray & Osborne is well along in finalizing plans for that project.

The plans were stalled when community activists and Elmer City objected to the high monthly sewer rates the project would produce.

Hjorten said that his focus now is in doing only what has to be done at the plant, and to cooperate with Elmer City and Coulee Dam residents’ assertions that its citizens could not afford the larger scope of work that was originally proposed.

“Of course, I am only one vote on the council, and whatever is decided will have to satisfy our funding source, the Department of Ecology,” Hjorten said.

When discussions on IHS involvement got started, Colville Business Council Chair John Sirois requested that a panel be established to “review the project concept and scope as described in the predesign report of Gray & Osborne.”

A meeting was held in Spokane, hosted by IHS, where it was determined that the following concepts be included in the study:

- Barriers to effective communication and participation;

- Alternatives review;

- Life-cycle costs;

- and comprehensive planning.

A review committee met and determined that alternative plans had not been considered when the project planning began and that information on the operation and maintenance of the new facility was lacking.

The IHS letter said the agency could not recommend funding the project “until an analysis of feasible alternatives is carried out and the … O&M considerations are addressed.” The report also stated: “We believe that addressing these items will also satisfy the criteria that the representatives identified at the Feb. 6 meeting.”

At that meeting were the Tribes, IHS, Elmer City, Coulee Dam residents and the Washington State Department of Ecology. No Coulee Dam officials or its engineer attended, the letter notes.

Gray & Osborne engineers had stated at an earlier public meeting that alternatives were not considered because no one asked them to do so.

Opponents of the larger project had asked that Coulee Dam consider alternative sites for the plant, and at one point Elmer City’s council had decided to go it alone and put in its own wastewater treatment plant. However, publicly some of the council members there have stated they would prefer working with Coulee Dam for the solution.

Whether Hjorten’s plan to move forward on a lesser plant will attract cooperation from those who have opposed the project is uncertain. But it may be attractive to pocketbook issues of the residents of the two towns.

Citizens had expected the wastewater treatment plant project and the IHS report would be taken up at the April 10 Coulee Dam council meeting, but that meeting was cancelled for lack of business to consider.

 

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