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Regional board examined

Sat., Feb. 20, 2010

Transportation pact draws council notice

The Spokane Valley City Council took a look at the newest version of a regional transportation interlocal agreement during its packed agenda at Tuesday’s council meeting.

All the cities and towns in Spokane County are members of the Spokane Regional Transportation Council, an entity mandated by state and federal law that has been in existence since the 1960s. The SRTC receives federal money every year for transportation projects. It asks local governments to submit proposed construction projects, which the SRTC board then evaluates and ranks before deciding which projects to fund. A city must sign the interlocal agreement in order to have access to the federal funding.

The agreement is evaluated every few years, and the newest version suggests increasing the number of board members from nine to 12. That provision is a topic of concern for both the city of Spokane and Liberty Lake because having an even number of people on the board presents the opportunity for deadlock if there is a tie vote.

Councilwoman Brenda Grassel asked SRTC representatives why the organization exists and how cities managed transportation projects before it was formed. “I always have a concern when a regional body is formed because I think it takes away the voice of the local community,” Grassel said.

SRTC transportation manager Glenn Miles said before the regional organization was formed cities often used federal funding for pet projects and sometimes deliberately tried to hurt neighboring jurisdictions by not connecting to major streets. That led to federal regulations that mandated a regional council.

The council also heard a presentation on wastewater management and the new treatment plant being built just outside the city limits at the old stockyards on Freya Street. One of the proposals with the new plant is to put in piping to bring reclaimed water that has been treated and purified to the Saltese Flats to form wetlands. “It used to be a lake,” said Spokane County Utilities Director Bruce Rawls. “It used to be wetlands.” The area was drained during the early 1900s to provide farmland.

The proposal is still in its conceptual stage and Spokane County commissioners have not approved the estimated $42 million price tag, Rawls said. “That’s a pretty major decision,” he said.

A feasibility study has been done, and it would be possible to create a shallow wetland or a more elaborate, deeper body of water with islands for improved wildlife habitat, Rawls said. The proposed project could cover up to 512 acres.

•In other business, council members seemed receptive to renewing a short-term access agreement with Holcim Inc. The company used to operate a cement factory near Myrtle Point across the Spokane River from Plantes Ferry Park. Part of the area is now parkland owned by the city, and some of the soil is contaminated by cement kiln dust. “They’ve recognized that they have a responsibility to remediate the problem,” said Deputy City Attorney Cary Driskell.

The company is still negotiating with a neighboring landowner for the right to cross his property as well, Driskell said, so the city would need to extend its permission for Holcim to access the land until July 31. Holcim wants to take out 10 truckloads of contaminated soil for a Waste Management test project to see if the highly alkaline soil can be used to cap landfills to keep heavy metals from migrating, Driskell said.

The council will vote on the access agreement at its next meeting.

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