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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Down To Earth

Playing With House Money

Monroe Bridge and the Spokane River *Photo credit - rejuvesite on Flickr Is it too much to ask for the county to go above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to researching, educating and selecting what is believed to be the largest public works contract ever signed? We think not – and just when the wastewater treatment facility plant issue couldn’t get more layered, Spokane journalist extraordinaire Tim Connor of The Center for Justice reports that much of the phosphorous-removing technology that is being debated right now is essentially determined successful or effective by the very company who currently is on the fast track to Spokane county riches. A company, worth noting, who has a less than clean environmental record, who once employed the current County Utilities Director, and most importantly appears to have themselves utterly entangled in a 100 million dollar-plus quagmire of a conflict of interest. As it sits, Spokane County is favoring awarding the proposed wastewater treatment project to CH2M Hill, an Englewood, Colorado based, engineering, construction, and consulting firm. And favoring might be an understatement given The Spokesman-Review reported earlier this month that County Commissioner Todd Mielke said, “he’s willing to put his political future on the line for this decision to forge ahead with CH2M Hill.”

What makes CH2M Hill so qualified and technologically sound to handle the difficult task of cleaning phosphorous from the Spokane River, a task all sides of this issue ultimately agree on? Part of their attraction is that much of the perceived success and effectiveness of phosphorous elimination is set and seemingly made standard by their very company. In a recent article written for, “The Kitchen Table”, The Center for Justice’s feature commentary page, Tim Connor explains phosphorous removal levels and the seemingly obvious conflict of interest with CH2M Hill; “The county and its consultants, including CH2M Hill, decided that the design criteria for phosphorous removal should be 50 µg/L, reasoning that this was the best that could be hoped for given the limits of existing technology. In other words, if you could show you could get phosphorous levels down to 50 µg/L in treated effluent, then you were eligible to get the county’s contract for the new plant. It has never seemed to matter to the county or CH2M Hill that 50 µg/L gets you nothing in the way of a legal discharge into the Spokane River. Instead, the plan seems to have been to set the number at 50 µg/L and then use political pressure on state and federal regulators to get them to change or bend the rules (i.e. waive water quality standards) to allow a 50 µg/L discharge into the river. With Rawls’s (Bruce Rawls, Spokane County’s current utilities director, and 14-year employee of CH2M Hill) and the county’s blessing, Correll (head of the Spokane office for CH2M Hill) and CH2M Hill became not just consultants to the county, but outright partners in shaping and defending the county’s approach and the county decisions from which the company would ultimately benefit.” Through scores of research and documents obtained by the Freedom of Information Act, Tim Connor unfolds a fascinating tale of a private company working hand in hand with Spokane County officials on a proposed project that they would ultimately become favorites in obtaining the contract for – a contract well upwards of $100 million. And a decision that will ultimately amend the course of the future of the fragile Spokane River. To read Tim Connor’s brilliantly researched and written piece titled, “Stuck in the Membrane with CH2M Hill,” click HERE

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Down To Earth

The DTE blog is committed to reporting and sharing environmental news and sustainability information from across the Inland Northwest.