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Spokane County’s wastewater plant permit flawed, state board says

Spokane County’s permit to operate its 2-year-old, $173 million wastewater plant was partially invalidated by state regulators last week.

The Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board said the methodology used by the state Department of Ecology in granting the permit was faulty.

The board last Friday ordered the Ecology Department to strengthen its control of the release of polychlorinated biphenyls into the Spokane River.

Ecology scientists had said that it was not possible to establish a numeric limit on PCB discharges because of inadequate data on the chemical.

Instead, the department required the county to submit annual water quality reports and keep improving pollution removal methods at the Spokane County Water Reclamation Facility at Freya Way in East Spokane.

The challenge to the permit was brought by the Sierra Club and Center for Environmental Law and Policy against the ecology department and Spokane County.

John Osborn, of the Sierra Club, said he expected the plant to stop operating as a result of the ruling, with wastewater diverted to the Spokane treatment plant at Riverside State Park until the permit issues are resolved.

However, Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter, spokeswoman for the county, said the plant continues to operate. “We are not being forced out of the river,” she said.

The pollution board said that a creation of a Regional Toxics Task Force to bring the river into compliance with PCB pollution limits was not a sufficient method for meeting discharge standards.

The board ordered the ecology department to require additional improvements to PCB removal measures.

Wheatley-Billeter said an appeal to Superior Court would have to be filed within 30 days.


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