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Civil meeting makes for progress in Coulee Dam

Two sides discuss sewer plant options


Two days earlier, people on opposite sides of a contentious issue hadn’t gotten along so well, but the regular meeting of the Coulee Dam Town Council Wednesday progressed with civility remarkable by contrast.

The town council accepted without comment a 275-signature petition by citizens to submit plans for a wastewater treatment facility upgrade to third-party engineers for “value engineering,” a formal process performed on many projects by engineers who do nothing else but look for ways to save money in such proposals.

The petition also said signers wanted Coulee Dam to work with Elmer City on the project and roll back a recent increase in sewer service rates.

The council heard comments by resident Greg Wilder, a retired municipal planner who has been critical of the project, and asked questions about his submitted comparison to a similar project completed eight months ago in Rock Island, Wash.

At the end of the exchange, Mayor Quincy Snow thanked Wilder for his comments. At the end of the meeting, Town Clerk Carol Visker offered cookies to those still lingering.

Council members and the mayor asked several questions of Wilder, who had given them a written comparison of the plan prepared for the town’s upgrade proposal with the results of the entirely new Rock Island plant, built for nearly the same cost but operating with far less expense.

Wilder said the new facility at Rock Island, with nearly identical volumes to process as Coulee Dam, operates on $144,750 a year, compared to an estimate of $393,000 for Coulee Dam’s rebuilt plant. And servicing the debt on the project cost $95,000 yearly in Rock Island, compared to a projected $324,000 in the Coulee Dam plan. Combined, total annual costs for the Coulee Dam plant as planned would reach three times that of the stated costs for the Rock Island plant, according to the information Wilder presented. Figures were derived from each project’s facilities plan.

Comparing the entire life of each plant, Wilder said, Coulee Dam’s would cost about $7.745 million more, or about $20 a month more per “equivalent residential unit” (ERU).

“It’s not chump change to some of us,” he said.

Wilder included a list of possible funding sources in addition to the state loan Coulee Dam’s current plan relies on.

Snow noted that he had inquired of two congressional offices more than two years ago regarding two grant programs Wilder listed; they were no longer available, the mayor was told.

Councilmember Bob Poch said Wilder’s comparison was not entirely valid because he was comparing the town’s expected 20-year refurbished plant life with Rock Island’s new 40-year plan. Wilder said Coulee Dam’s facility plan did not explore a new plant option, but probably should have.

Councilmember Karl Hjorton noted the biggest difference involved the funding of the two plants, not the engineering.

Wilder said Rock Island’s financing mix of 60 percent grants and 40 percent loan was determined four years ago, well before construction started. He was critical of Gray and Osborne, the town’s engineering firm, for not having already pursued additional funding sources. He said if the Colville Tribes had been involved early on, Indian Health Service would likely have helped find more funding.

Councilmember Andy Trader noted the town was “still in the running” for a possible grant from Indian Health Service.

“If this is done right,” Wilder said, “you’ll be in the running for a lot more than IHS.”

Answering a question from Hjorton, Wilder acknowledged it’s possible that with good value engineering and enough funding found, the plant could still be built in its present location, rather than at a new site, and still keep rates lower than current projections.

The council and mayor also queried Wilder on his opinions on engineering firms in the state and asked if he would help craft a legally required public notice for the value engineering process. He agreed to do so.

The council held off on reconsidering a rollback of the recent rate change. That money could pay for the value engineering. Trader estimated the VE would cost about $18,000. Wilder noted the process on average saves about 15 times what it costs.

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