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Sun., Nov. 9, 2008

Our View: Public should speak up on facility contract

The draft service contract for a proposed Regional Water Reclamation Facility is 219 pages long. The contract, if approved, will be between Spokane County and CH2M HILL, the company the county chose to design, build and run the sewage treatment facility.

The contract isn’t an easy read. A typical sentence: “No certification of Provisional Acceptance by the Company pursuant to Section 6.6 shall limit or otherwise affect any of the County’s rights under this Service Contract.”

Chances are good that the only people who have read it thoroughly are members of environmental groups, county utility officials, county leaders and other elected officials from Eastern Washington communities.

So, county citizens who “flush and forget” what happens in their toilets might be temped to flush and forget the fact that on Nov. 18, county commissioners are seeking citizen input on the proposed contract. Here are some reasons why citizens should respond:

 If approved, the treatment plant – estimated cost between $170 million and $210 million – will be one of the biggest public projects undertaken by the county. (The only project potentially more expensive? A new county jail. Estimated tab: $245 million.)

 Taxpayers will pay for the treatment plant. No one is yet predicting how much the county’s sewer rates will rise, but everyone is predicting they will.

 There will be “translators” at the meeting to explain the contract in plain language. County utility staffers can explain why they think the county needs the plant. The city of Spokane processes the county’s waste but will run out of plant capacity to do so by 2014. A county wastewater treatment plant will allow more homes to get off septic tanks that now sit above the aquifer. And a new plant will allow the county to grow.

On the opposing side, environmental groups will explain their concerns. For instance, in a recent letter to commissioners, the Sierra Club Upper Columbia River Group wrote: “The County’s technology of choice, MBR or membrane bio-reactor treatment, will not remove phosphorus – the critical problem for the Spokane River – to necessary levels.”

The meeting won’t be as warm and fuzzy as a community meeting on parks or pools. But how a community handles what it flushes down the toilet can determine its future.

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