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Town is better off with new treatment plan package

Letter to the Editor


Given the current squabble about the Town’s Wastewater Treatment Facility, I suppose I should contribute my view. To begin with, this is a “simple” process and simple project: all of our Coulee Dam sewage is “domestic”… we don’t process or treat industrial wastes, we don’t process or treat commercial fruit canning. Virtually all we do is process and treat domestic wastes… it can’t be any simpler than this! And, virtually our population hasn’t changed for decades. In 1990 our population was 1,100 AND today it still is 1,100. And, our own Town’s adopted Comprehensive Plan says, “…will assume a zero growth rate” AND, if growth were to actually need more capacity, “…require developers to bear the cost of infrastructure improvements” not at the expense for our user fees! Through this adopted Growth Management Act (GMA) Comprehensive Plan (and these subsequent policies), we value our commitments to our citizens.

As a point of history, about 15 years ago the State and Coulee Dam decided that we needed a new “Water” Treatment Plant for some good (and some not-so-good) reasons. Yes, the regulations changed and we needed to meet modern standards. But for some unfathomable and unnecessary purpose, the Town decided to build the new water plant well over twice as large as it needed to be! I suppose that the Town was hoping (maybe praying) for the “Field of Dreams.” But, fifteen years later, our population and flow-history haven’t changed a dam(n) bit! Meanwhile, the residents of Coulee Dam are stuck paying the debt service, AND the ever-increased maintenance & operations costs. Just for the unused and oversized portion of that water plant, this represents over 30 percent of the capital and O&M cost just for “dreams” every month, every year, every decade!

However, this time the Town stirred… “What! Are you going to build another treatment plant?” “No, no, no… this time it’s about a $6.3 million Sewer Treatment Plant.” Yes, it’s almost 50 years old, it’s beginning to fail, it needs to be fixed in order to meet regulations, needs a lot of modernization, and (of course) the old Coulee Dam/Elmer City shared agreement needs a contemporary rewrite.

The prior engineer, the prior administration, the prior lead agency, and the State Department of Ecology left us with a design and approval process in a mess that would have cost between 30% and 50% more of our user fees for every month and every year. And for the same reasons: over sizing, excessive maintenance and operations costs, under-funding, and (of course) in the hope of those dam(n) “dreams!” As a point, the engineer offered little help for us with grant applications (the “free money”). However, Ecology did “help” with a 2.7% loan. But in the end, the engineer and Ecology did little to prepare or review the prerequisite “alternatives,” and without those “alternatives” the granting agencies could not (did not) provide any grant funds.

As it is NOW (during the past 2 years), we “actually” reviewed and compared “alternatives.” Some of the goals included: regulatory requirements, a solid focus for user fees, efficiency, a best-practice paradigm, facility life-cycle costs, etc. We compared compliant and reasonable alternatives, AND an alternative was chosen – adopted by the Town Council. Through this process, we involved new engineers, we actually involved meaningful stake-holders, and our new lead agency (Rural Development). Through this process, the new Treatment Plant at $6.13 million “includes” a $1.53 million grant (the “free money”) with the balance of a 2.25% (or less) loan. AND, the customer-costs will be kept similar to the current user fees.

The Town is enriched by the process and we are thankful for all of those stake-holders, the engineers, our Town Clerk and staff, our Town Council, Rural Development AND – the funding package!

F. Gregory Wilder,

Mayor (Coulee Dam)

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