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Coulee Dam should not subsidize Elmer City

 


Last week The Star published “Town now planning entire lift station to serve Elmer City.” As a short response, Coulee Dam should not subsidize Elmer City. It’s unreasonable, it’s poor strategy (with some caveats), it’s a matter of fairness, and may violate the state constitution & statutes (as a gift of funds).

During the planning, design, and approvals for the new Coulee Dam wastewater treatment facility, the town took all reasonable efforts to include and involve all those impacted and involved the stakeholders — specifically, since the Town of Elmer City and Coulee Dam share an “Agreement for Joint Operations and Utilization of Sewage Disposal Facilities.” This 50-year agreement was memorialized in 1975… and throughout those 43 years that marriage has been raft of disagreements. The Star article on October 24th suggests that Coulee Dam may impact (increase) our wastewater user fees.

Coulee Dam worked very hard to fund our new Treatment Facility. To put that into perspective, we provided $200,000 for our sewer fund reserve, secured a 40-year term, 2.4-percent interest loan for $5.6 million, and a grant of $2.1 million. The 2014 fiscal strategic plan (a promise) was to freeze that single-family rate at $56 per month. AND, given that no real surprises [have emerged] during construction, Coulee Dam could/should expect to maintain those rates.

Elmer City should be no surprise — in fact, they are/were following a parallel process to plan, design, and build a new treatment plant of their own! At the behest of Elmer City (and the Tribes), those subsequent studies were funded by the Indian Health Services and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The now-current 1976 Coulee Dam treatment facility was old (over 40 years), tired, faced with environmental failures, and very costly to operate. In 2004, the Town began the earnest planning/design efforts to update or replace that facility. In 2011, that plan was adopted. However, lacking a functional funding strategy and locational changes, that 2011 plan was amended and the new design was approved, adopted, and funded in 2016. The $7.9 million project was awarded, funded, and construction contracts executed in 2017.

If Elmer City stills plans to build its own and separate facility, they should have come to their own conclusions three years ago! And, since the new (nearly completed) Coulee Dam facility has adequate capacity, Elmer City just needs to make the appropriate connections. Do the math … Elmer City can build a new plant for between $2.1 million and $4.1 million AND pay $150,000 per year to operate it. OR, fund/pay for a new $550,000 - $750,000 integrated lift station to serve the Coulee Dam facility … go figure! And, IF Elmer City actually does build its own facility in 2025 (in seven years), Coulee Dam will be left to pay for the unused $750,000 lift-station for the next 33 years!

The Coulee Dam & Elmer City 1975 simple language agreement points to a few and clear matters: 1) the sewage disposal facilities shall remain the ownership of Coulee Dam; 2) Elmer City must solely deliver sewage to it in a closed pipe system at the cost of Elmer City, 3) AND Elmer City shall pay a flow-based cost sharing to the new Coulee Dam facility; among other provisions.

The City of Coulee Dam has NO responsibly to support or fund the proposed Elmer City $760,000 lift station. Nor should Coulee Dam cover the on-going maintenance & operations cost either. To do so will increase Coulee Dam another $3 - $5 per month to our user fees to subsidize Elmer City.

The best of all solutions is to replace the 1975 Agreement with new, modern language that truly reflects the new facility costs and true operational costs. Or, we may need a third-party to intercede — or a Solomonic agreement! And/or possibly a changed governance (a district) to own/share/operate the treatment and delivery of sewage. The city council needs to think and rethink very carefully … or take mayoral leadership. And, generally it’s not good policy to leave it to the engineers — even good ones often skip or gloss [over] the broader strategic paradigms. In the end, which isn’t a bad approach, there are legal resolutions. As they put it – if you can’t mitigate it, litigate it!

Thank you, and in service, I remain,

F. Gregory Wilder, Mayor (1/14 -12/17)

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