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Valley council debates need for dry well facility

Thu., Nov. 3, 2011

City wants grant for decant project

A request by Spokane Valley staff to apply for a grant hit a snag Tuesday night when some City Council members questioned the need for the project the grant would pay for.

The city has 7,350 dry wells and 3,460 catch basins to maintain. Each well and basin must be emptied of water and debris with a vactoring truck, which is essentially a giant vacuum. Public Works Director Neil Kersten said he wants to apply for a state grant to pay to install a decant facility that would separate the water from the dirt and other debris. The project is estimated to cost between $300,000 and $750,000 depending on what type of facility the city decides to install, Kersten said.

The city contracts with AAA Sweeping for the dry well work. Crews can only fill one vactoring truck a day because wood chips must be added to soak up the water before the load can be taken to a landfill. “You can’t just dump that water,” Kersten said.

No decant facility currently exists in Spokane County, Kersten said. The Washington state Department of Transportation has expressed interest in partnering with the city by helping pay for the project and by paying the city to process its dry well waste, he said. Having the facility would allow the city to process up to two or three truckloads of dry well waste a day instead of one.

Councilman Dean Grafos questioned the need to pay so much for a decant facility when the city already spends $175,000 a year for the contract with AAA Sweeping. “I don’t see how we can justify that,” he said.

AAA Sweeping has contributed $800 toward Grafos’ re-election campaign and company owner Brett Sargent has also made a personal contribution of $200.

Kersten said the city’s contract would remain unchanged and crews would simply be able to do more work in the same amount of time. Right now the city pays the contractor to sit and wait for the wood chips to soak up the water, he said. “He can work all day instead of just sitting there and us paying him for that,” he said.

The city is falling behind in its dry well cleaning because it can only do one truckload a day, Kersten said. “We’re not keeping up,” he said. “We need to clean more dry wells. We can get more work done for less cost.”

Grafos said he was concerned that the city would need to add more staff to do the work and it would cost the city more money. Kersten said that wouldn’t be necessary. “I don’t follow your numbers at all,” Kersten said.

Grafos replied that his focus is on not expanding the city’s work load or number of employees by taking over the vactoring work. “I’m just worried about going down a slippery slope,” he said.

Councilman Arne Woodard said the project sounds like a good idea “as long as we’re not increasing employee count or equipment.”

A portion of the 25 percent in matching funds will likely be covered by DOT, Kersten said. “We have more than adequate funds,” he said.

“It sounds like we can get a decant facility at a very low cost to the city,” said Councilman Bill Gothmann.

The council requested more information on the estimated cost of the project and how many more dry wells could be cleaned before they make a decision on applying for the grant.

Council members were in unanimous agreement that Kersten should apply for a grant to put in drainage swales along Sprague Avenue between Park Road and Thierman Road. The project, which will cost an estimated $630,000 to $1 million, would reduce maintenance costs by eliminating 30 dry wells, Kersten said.

The council also approved applying for a grant to remove fill material from Chester Creek from Thorpe Road to Schafer Road to help prevent future flooding. The project will cost an estimated $80,000 to $150,000.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to approve a $75,000 contract with CH2M Hill to do survey work for the replacement of the Sullivan Road west bridge. The survey work needs to be done “before the snow flies,” said senior engineer Steve Worley. Getting the survey work done now will allow staff to work on the design of the bridge during the winter.

Worley confirmed that staff had completed and sent a request for federal grant money for the final $10 million needed to build the bridge. “I don’t know when those decisions will be made,” he said.

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