Spokane County officials expect to get a state permit today to operate their new sewage treatment plant – and to celebrate on Thursday.
There may be some crossed fingers when the high fives are handed out at the $173 million plant’s dedication ceremony.
Although the plant will go into operation this week, it hasn’t yet passed state tests that would allow it to remain in operation past June 1.
That’s when more-stringent summer standards will require the plant to do a better job of converting ammonia to a compound that removes less oxygen from the river water than it has done so far in tests.
The summer standards will remain in effect through Sept. 30.
The plant’s builder and operator, CH2M Hill, was supposed to satisfy all state Department of Ecology requirements before the plant could go into operation. However, county commissioners will consider amending that part of the company’s contract today.
Under the amendment, CH2M Hill will be paid to operate the plant but won’t get all its construction money until the plant works as agreed.
“For now, they’ll meet all the standards in the river with no problem,” Utilities Director Bruce Rawls said.
He said the plant is removing algae-feeding phosphorus and other contaminants to levels “way below” the winter maximums.
Launching the new county plant will improve water quality because it provides “substantially” better treatment – even of ammonia – than does the Spokane plant where the effluent otherwise would go, Rawls said.
He said there are “no indications” that CH2M Hill won’t be able to meet the summer standards, but “they have to prove that this plant can perform at that level.”
The proposed contract amendment allows time for additional state-monitored tests. In exchange, CH2M Hill acknowledges responsibility for the cost of rerouting sewage to the Spokane plant if the company can’t meet the summer standards.
Company officials also must temporarily drop their claims that “unstable flows” from county pumping stations are causing problems for the treatment plant. But they reserve the right to seek relief later for “uncontrollable” circumstances.
“There is potential for a dispute in the future,” Rawls said. “But right now we don’t have one.”
He said he doesn’t think the company could win such a claim because the contract doesn’t require the county to keep the sewage flow even.
“We have to pump the sewage as it comes,” Rawls said. “That’s how sewage systems operate.”