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Town votes for smaller sewer plant project


Coulee Dam’s town council voted to move ahead with an abbreviated wastewater treatment project at its meeting last Wednesday night.

The decision didn’t make anyone completely happy, but the 4-1 vote will allow the immediate needs of the current wastewater treatment plant to be addressed.

The lone “no” vote was cast by Councilmember Bob Poch, who, in explaining his vote, said there were too many “ifs, ands and buts” for him to support it. He stated that he felt something like Larry Holford, an Elmer City councilman, who asked the council to step back and give the project decision some time.

The Coulee Dam council had already postponed the decision on the matter several times.

The cloud of indecision had also hit Councilmember Ben Alling who acknowledged that community activist Greg Wilder and his persistent opposition to the project helped raise concerns he had. But he voted for the abbreviated project.

Wilder’s objections and the work he did on dissecting the project’s scope and cost helped prompt him to file as a candidate for mayor against Quincy Snow. Shawn Derrick has also filed for mayor.

Poch was asked to explain his “no” vote, if he wanted to, by Councilmember Karl Hjorten. Poch stated that he had “rate” considerations and felt like he needed more time to consider other options.

Elmer City Mayor Mary Jo Carey pleaded with the council to renegotiate the current contract between the two municipalities, to no avail. She stated that the contract was old. It’s 38 years into its 50-year term.

“The Constitution is old too, but we don’t want to throw it out,” Poch replied.

Carey had asked earlier for the Coulee Dam council to declare the current agreement invalid, but the council ruled against her request.

Carey stated again, as she has for several months, “Our citizens can’t afford the higher rates.”

When she said that Elmer City had never been consulted on the project, that prompted Coulee Dam Councilmember Ken Miles to disagree. He recalled a meeting that Elmer City had been invited to while discussions of the project were going on. Carey stated that all Elmer City was looking for was “light at the end of the tunnel.”

She added, “I don’t like the back-biting that is going on and I won’t be a part of it,” and then stated, “I rest my case,” and sat down. The wastewater treatment project has also had some political ramifications in Elmer City. Councilmember Gail Morin is running against Carey.

Coulee Dam’s attorney, Mick Howe, stated that the contract between the two towns was valid but could be amended by mutual consent.

Howe also said that it was confusing: one week Elmer City stated that the agreement was invalid and the next week it was calling for it to be rewritten.

Hjorten made the motion to move ahead with a “tier 1” project, costing $2 million to $2.9 million. A bigger project was calculated at $4.92 million, and Wilder had estimated it at over $6 million.

The town’s engineering firm submitted an alternative analysis that showed building a plant up the Columbia River would, over the life of the project, cost more than to upgrade the town’s present plant.

The council had agreed to a 30-day delay a month ago while Wilder sought money to pay for an alternatives analysis to show where the best location would be for the sewer plant.

He told the council the 30-day delay would give him time to come up with the money to pay for the alternatives analysis.

Wilder told the council Wednesday night that Indian Health Services had denied his request for funding for the analysis.

In making the motion to move ahead, Hjorten noted that the town needed to make progress on correcting some deficiencies before the end of he year.

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