June 29, 2011 in City

Council accepts sewage loan

$1.2 million to build an overflow tank
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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The Spokane River roars through Riverfront Park below the site of the old YMCA building demolition last week.
(Full-size photo)

Spokane will borrow more than $1 million from the state to help prevent untreated sewage from spilling into the Spokane River.

The City Council on Monday agreed to accept a low-interest loan from the state Department of Ecology to pay for a sewage overflow tank already under construction near the T.J. Meenach Bridge. The topic arose Tuesday night in one of the first mayoral debates of the campaign.

The project is one of many that that will add up to an estimated $300 million through 2017, the deadline that’s been set for the city to stop nearly all discharges of raw sewage into the river.

Much of Spokane’s south side has storm drains that flow into the sanitary sewage system. When it rains, that system becomes overburdened and untreated sewage flows to the river. To prevent that, the city is installing a series of overflow tanks to capture excess sewage and move it to the treatment plant as capacity allows.

City officials say they likely will seek a bond to pay for most of those projects. The construction of the tanks has been cited as a significant reason for recent and proposed sewage fee increases that could make monthly sewage bills hit $55 in 2013, up from about $33 in 2010.

Mayoral candidate David Condon on Tuesday criticized the state’s deadline during a debate sponsored by the nonprofit group Sustainable Resources INW.

“There is a strong overreaching,” he said. “We took out a $1 million loan from the state for a $300 million requirement.”

Condon said while the city should work to fix the stormwater problem, it should get an extended deadline.

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said she has worked to achieve flexibility on the deadline, but that the city can’t risk violating its wastewater discharge permit.

“I do have to comply with state and federal law or I risk wasting a whole lot of money on lawsuits that I’m going to lose,” Verner said.

John Mercer, Spokane’s capital projects manager, said the city applied for the loan in 2009 and was awarded it earlier this year.

Interest on the $1.2 million loan is set at 2.8 percent, about half as much interest as would be paid on a bond, Mercer said. It must be repaid within 20 years.

In the first three months of 2011, about 12 million gallons of untreated sewage flowed into the Spokane River as a result of rain or melting snow.

City Councilman Bob Apple, a critic of the state Department of Ecology, cast the lone vote against the loan.


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