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County Considers Sewer Rate Hike Sewage Treatment Plant Needs Improvements

Spokane County’s 12,000 sewer customers would pay an additional $4 a month over the next three years under a plan to build a savings account for improvements at the regional sewage treatment plant.

City sewer customers could see a similar increase over the next six years under a proposal that has not yet been presented to the City Council.

The 1977 treatment plant falls short of state environmental standards. It needs between $50 million and $62 million in improvements just to keep handling the sewage it now treats each day, Utilities Director Bruce Rawls told commissioners Tuesday.

Rawls said the county could collect about $800,000 a year with the rate increase.

“As I leave (office), this is the No. 1 pressing thing for this community for the next five years. Not No. 2,” said Commissioner Steve Hasson, whose term ends in January.

Hasson compared the pending bill with the cost of closing landfills in the late 1980s, when many residents were stunned by a sudden increase in their garbage rates.

Commissioners scheduled a Dec. 3 hearing on the plan to raise sewer rates $2 next year, $1 in 1998 and another $1 in 1999. That’s on top of a sewer bill that’s already $17.50 a month.

Rawls said city utility officials plan to suggest the city boost monthly sewer rates $4.62 per customer over the next six years. The rate would increase 77 cents each year.

Phil Williams, city planning and engineering services director, did not return telephone messages Tuesday, and that plan could not be confirmed.

At a meeting earlier this month, Commissioner John Roskelley suggested putting the county’s rate increase to a public advisory vote.

But Hasson warned it would be defeated and commissioners would be forced to raise rates for the work anyway.

Rawls said the sewage treatment plant exceeds limits for the amount of ammonia it dumps into the Spokane River. By 2001, it will exceed the limit for phosphorus, which causes algae blooms in Long Lake downstream from the plant.

A bigger, more expensive problem than meeting environmental standards will hit sometime after the turn of the century when the treatment plant will reach capacity.

Unless Spokane stops growing, engineers will have to build a new plant or find alternative ways of handling the waste. Dumping more treated wastewater into the river may not be an option as regulations for protecting the river become more stringent.

One possible solution - building a treatment plant that would dump treated waste onto land - would cost about $100 million, county engineers predict.

The federal and state governments paid about 90 percent of the cost of building the plant in 1977. Such help no longer is available, Rawls said, so local taxpayers will have to foot the bill.

, DataTimes

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