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Spokane appeals findings, fine in Waste-to-Energy Plant investigation

UPDATED: Mon., May 22, 2017, 11:32 p.m.

FILE - Steam billows from the Waste-to-Energy Plant in Spokane on Tuesday, Dec.13, 2016. Workers at the facility earned $1.2 million in overtime pay last year, part of what officials said was a worrying upward trend. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE - Steam billows from the Waste-to-Energy Plant in Spokane on Tuesday, Dec.13, 2016. Workers at the facility earned $1.2 million in overtime pay last year, part of what officials said was a worrying upward trend. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane has appealed a $60,000 fine for alleged training and safety failures that led to two employees being burned at the Waste-to-Energy Plant last fall.

“We really felt strongly that the findings weren’t reflective of the actual event that transpired,” Public Works Director Scott Simmons told City Council members Monday.

Last month, the Washington Department of Labor & Industries cited Spokane for 10 “serious” violations of Washington administrative codes that were discovered after Larry Pratt and Craig Law received severe steam burns in an incident Oct. 4. Citations included failure to adequately outfit boiler workers performing a process called “declinkering” that involves removing waste products from the sides of a small, enclosed chamber, and for not holding regular training sessions on how to respond in the case of an emergency inside the boiler.

Simmons said city workers, many of them employees at the facility during its previous prior ownership by private company Wheelabrator, did receive annual emergency training, and that the city provided the department at a recent meeting with safety training materials that were not requested during the initial investigation.

“This is us saying, we agree with some of what you’ve got here,” said Simmons, but the city doesn’t agree with some of the findings and believes others were redundant, he said.

City Council President Ben Stuckart asked if a written report had been prepared by Exponent Inc., a California firm hired by the city to conduct its own investigation into the incident.

“I have a concern, because since we’ve bought it, everyone who’s taken me on tours there shows me the certificates of safety,” Stuckart said. “Then, now, we’re appealing and asking for a re-evaluation of where we did get fined.”

Simmons said Exponent’s written report should be released “soon” and some of the company’s work informed the decision to appeal the state regulatory ruling.

Pratt and Law have since been released from the hospital. Following the incident, workers ceased using water to remove debris inside the boiler and instead are using small, controlled explosions to conduct the declinkering, city staff said.

The city expects the Department of Labor & Industries to review the additional information provided and prepare an amended list of charges, if investigators deem it appropriate, by the end of June. The city can then decide whether to accept the new charges or pursue its appeal, which would be heard by an arbitration judge outside of the department, Simmons said Monday.


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