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County’s sewer project gets officially under way

One of the largest public works projects in Spokane County history, which has been nearly 30 years in the making, got its official start Thursday as local officials “turned dirt” for the $140 million wastewater treatment facility.

Standing on land once occupied by stockyards off Freya Street, elected and appointed government leaders from the county, the city of Spokane Valley and the city of Spokane stuck shovels into the pre-softened soil and complimented one another for their cooperation.

The shovels were painted purple to signify the treatment plant’s “purple pipe,” an industry term for a system that distributes reclaimed water to irrigate parks and playgrounds and for industrial use. Real work will begin this summer, and the 8-million-gallon-per-day treatment facility is expected to open in 2012, just slightly ahead of when the county’s existing plant is expected to hit capacity, in 2013. Reaching capacity for the existing facility could lead to a state-imposed building moratorium, County Commissioner Todd Mielke said.

The county began studying a wastewater plant as early as 1979. In the past two years, as the county neared a decision on a facility, it hit some stumbling blocks. The price soared, from an estimated $73.4 million in 2004 to $140 million for the final contract signed with CH2M Hill in January.

The county does not yet know what the final standards will be for treated water discharged into the Spokane River. Some critics said the county should have been sure about the discharge requirements before signing a contract for the facility.

County commissioners also haven’t decided how much sewer rates will go up, and when they will go up, to pay for the new plant and other improvements to the sewage system.

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