An Eastern Washington group fighting an aquifer protection proposal is using a state bureaucrat’s mistake to raise new questions about the plan.
The Northwest Council of Governments & Associates says the state would ban all landfills in a seven-county area of Eastern Washington if the aquifer is formally designated the sole source of the area’s drinking water.
“This type of regulation is unconscionable,” the group’s chairman, Franklin County Commissioner Frank Brach, said in a press release Wednesday.
The prospect of a landfill ban is misleading and is being used to fuel fears about the aquifer designation, said Claude Sappington, director of Ecology’s Eastern Washington office.
The group is “strenuously opposed” to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal to protect the aquifer underlying a 14,000-square mile area, Sappington said.
The aquifer system stretches east from the Columbia River and includes all of Douglas, Grant, Lincoln, Adams, Franklin and Whitman counties plus parts of Spokane County. In Idaho, it includes portions of Benewah, Nez Perce and Latah counties.
It doesn’t include the Spokane-Rathdrum Aquifer, which EPA designated as a so-called sole source aquifer in 1978.
The landfill ban flap started Jan. 5.
In a letter to Wally Hubbard, Spokane County’s planning director, Rebecca Inman of the state Department of Ecology said “a landfill cannot be located over a sole source aquifer.”
Inman was responding to Hubbard’s question whether a private landfill for industrial debris off U.S. Highway 2 west of Spokane would be allowed if the EPA designation is approved.
The proposed landfill for Spokane Industries’ local foundry would lie within the massive aquifer system.
“Her statement was in error. It doesn’t explain far enough what the solid waste regulations say,” Sappington said.
A landfill can’t be located over a sole source aquifer unless the owner or operator shows it won’t contaminate groundwater, Sappington said.
If the aquifer is designated a sole source aquifer, Spokane Industries would have to prove the landfill won’t pollute the groundwater if it is built.
So would Waste Management Inc., the nation’s largest garbage company, which is trying to build a large regional landfill near Washtucna over the same aquifer.
Waste Management officials say they can demonstrate their project won’t hurt the aquifer.
Ecology wrote a clarifying letter to Hubbard on Jan. 23, Sappington said. The Northwest Council did not attach the second letter to its Feb. 1 press release.
The council received the second letter, but does not think a clarification is necessary, said executive director William Riley.
“We’ve had a continual problem with Ecology - just what are their regulations? They are implementing policies that discourage business here,” said Riley, who also directs the Big Bend Economic Development Council in Moses Lake.
After the formal public comment period closes on Feb. 17, EPA will make its aquifer decision.
“We demand that EPA hold this process in abeyance until all the facts are available to the public,” said the council’s press release.
More than 200 people and groups have commented and there will be no further extensions, said Roger Mochnick, chief of the EPA’s ground water section in Seattle.
The Northwest Council includes elected officials and farm and industry groups. Waste Management has been active in the group.