City to seek grant for decant facility

Building would process waste removed from dry wells

A divided Spokane Valley City Council narrowly voted to allow city staff to apply for a grant to build a decant facility to process waste removed from the city’s dry wells. Some council members instead advocated for waiting for another jurisdiction to build one.

The city has 7,350 dry wells, said Public Works Director Neil Kersten, and only 1,262 of them meet current design standards. Over time, dry wells fill up with mud, sand, rocks and other debris and no longer work. The city has been cleaning about 212 dry wells a year, Kersten said.

The city contracts with AAA Sweeping to provide a vactor truck, essentially a giant vacuum, to clean out the dry wells. The liquid removed from the wells cannot be dumped, so workers must add wood chips to each load and wait for the water to be soaked up before the debris can be taken to the landfill for disposal.

Kersten said he estimates the city can save between $40,000 and $60,000 every year by building a decant facility to drain off the water and combine the solid debris into less frequent trips to the landfill. Right now the city pays $128 an hour for the truck to sit while the water is soaked up, Kersten said, which means crews are only working about half the day.

Councilman Chuck Hafner said the city should be cleaning about 900 drywells a year in order to meet a schedule that calls for each one to be cleaned every three years. “Are we going to be able to take care of all those?” he said.

Kersten said the number of dry wells cleaned could increase between 65 to 85 percent without changing the terms of the city’s contract with AAA Sweeping. “He’s still running eight hours with that vactor truck,” said Kersten. “He can be vactoring all day long instead of just sitting there.”

The grant would pay for 75 percent of the project, which could cost up to $800,000, Kersten said. The Washington state Department of Transportation has already pledged to contribute at least $150,000 and possibly as much as $300,000 toward the project if it is allowed to use it. The state agency also offered to let the city build the facility on their land just off Pines and Interstate 90, Kersten said.

Councilman Dean Grafos said he had done some checking and that Spokane County, Spokane and DOT are also interested in building a decant facility. “If they build the facility, they would have the liability,” he said. “Why don’t we let them build it? We could contract with them. I am adamantly opposed to the expansion of this city and city government to build this facility.”

Grafos said he thought Kersten wanted to add a second vactoring truck or add city employees. “Don’t you normally have two city employees per vactor truck?” he said.

Kersten said he does not want to add a second truck and sometimes he sends out one employee with the vactor truck. “We have to monitor their performance,” he said. He also added that if Spokane builds a facility it has already stated that it’s not willing to accept Spokane Valley’s vactoring waste because the work is performed by a contracted company.

Kersten said he was recommending seeking the grant because he thought the decant facility would make the city more efficient and that he was only trying to give the council the information it needed to make a decision. “What you do with that, it’s your choice,” he said. Kersten also said that if the city gets the grant, completes an engineering study and determines for some reason that building the decant facility isn’t feasible, the project can be dropped.

Councilwoman Brenda Grassel said it might be better to explore partnering with another jurisdiction on a decant facility. Councilman Bill Gothmann said he favored the plan because it would save the city money. “The motion is to apply for a grant, not to build a facility,” he said.

Councilman Gary Schimmels and Mayor Tom Towey joined Gothmann and Hafner in voting to apply for the grant. Council members Grassel, Grafos and Arne Woodard voted against it.

In other business, the council unanimously approved the city’s 2012 budget. Grafos suggested taking $250,000 from the year-end carryover and setting it aside to pay for future quiet zone projects on railroad crossings. “This is our last shot at this budget,” he said.

“It we adopt the budget tonight, we can amend it anytime,” said Towey. City Manager Mike Jackson said removing the money from the carryover might interfere with the council’s plans to take 40 percent of any carryover balance over $26 million and divert it to a special capital projects fund intended for street preservation.

“I just want to make sure it doesn’t get set aside,” Grafos said. Gothmann said the council should follow its usual process to add a project to the budget. “That’s a worthy project,” he said. “What we have before us is the budget.”

Woodard suggested setting aside any sales tax revenue over $16 million for quiet zone construction. “We’re going to see that sales tax increase,” he said. The money could also be set aside for street preservation projects, he said. “Nobody’s had the guts to do it in the last eight years.”

Jackson said he recommended waiting to suggest major changes until the city sees how the state budget comes out in June. Under some of the governor’s proposed cuts, the city could lose almost $2 million in revenue. The city will probably also find it increasingly hard to limit annual budget growth to 1 percent, he said. “We could soon find ourselves coming back the drawing board,” he said. “I’m just not sure that’s a commitment we would be able to maintain.”

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