May 16, 2004 in Opinion

Questions about new plant valid

The Spokesman-Review
 

At Spokane’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, employees are striving to get back to normal. It’s not easy when you’ve lost a friend and co-worker and when the media have focused on your workplace for a week. Mike Cmos Jr. was found dead Wednesday near the bottom of a digester tank.

Plant workers became more than anonymous government employees in a place many would like to ignore. They became grieving buddies, pulling together to support Cmos’ family. Our condolences are offered to Cmos’ neighbors, co-workers and loved ones.

Ironically, the tragedy raised awareness of what it truly means to have a wastewater treatment plant in your neighborhood and community. On Thursday, Spokane County held a hearing at East Central Community Center to talk about the environmental impact of a proposed $100 million wastewater treatment plant. Utility officials hope to have it up and running by 2008. Two sites have been identified — the former Playfair Race Course and the former Stockyards.

Citizens at the meeting asked questions with the recent tragedy in mind. An estimated 200,000 gallons of sewage sludge had poured on the ground and into the Spokane River after the tank breached. What if a similar accident occurred at a new plant? The proposed sites are not located as close to the river, officials said, and containment at both sites would prevent a lot of damage. Some liquid from the sludge would, however, seep into the aquifer.

Some citizens urged the county to explore alternative means of disposing of the treated wastewater rather than discharging it into the river. This is a valid point, because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could block discharge permits for the proposed plant. The river has reached or is at least near capacity for dissolved oxygen, and more studies, more reports and more meetings are in the works over the dilemma. In the meantime, citizens are wise to keep after officials on proposed contingency plans if the discharge permits don’t come through.

The tragedy also woke up citizens to the fact that sewage treatment is a regional issue. It crosses state and county lines. Residents in Stevens County who live on Lake Spokane worried what the sewage spill meant for the body of water they look out upon each day. And what would have happened if the plant shut down entirely for a day or longer?

We take the flushing of our toilets, and the treatment of all wastewater, for granted. Yet the proper treatment of wastewater is as essential to quality of life here as good drinking water and reliable electricity. Dedicated city workers do this community’s important dirty work everyday. It’s unfortunate we notice only when tragedy hits.


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