It took 15 years, a moratorium on sewer hookups, nearly a dozen contractors, $25 million and a lawsuit.
To the relief of city officials, however, expansion of this city’s sewage treatment plant finally is complete.
“You can imagine how irritating it is to have your home or business under construction while you’re trying to work,” said Sid Fredrickson, wastewater superintendent.
“Then imagine it going on for 15 years.”
But what started as a project to put Coeur d’Alene out front in the sewage game merely may have kept the city from lagging behind, experts say.
Following years of steady growth, studies of the health of the Spokane River and formation of a regional wastewater committee, future multimillion-dollar upgrades are likely.
“They (the city) are ahead of the curve now,” said Roger Tinkey of the state Division of Environmental Quality. “With the limiting resources of the aquifer and the river, they’ll probably have to go to even more advanced treatment.”
The plant now is capable of treating about 6 million gallons of waste per day and can serve 55,000 residents. The city currently processes about 3.1 million gallons per day from about 30,000 residents.
The treated sewage water that’s dumped into the Spokane River is cleaner, too, Fredrickson said.
Federal law requires the city to remove 85 percent of phosphorus and other nutrients from the wastewater. Phosphorus increases algae growth in the river during summer months.
With the new equipment, about 95 percent of that nutrient is removed.
“You notice the difference,” Fredrickson said. “The percentages may be small, but we’re cutting the actual amount of nutrients almost in half.”
But the volume of phosphorus the river can safely handle is limited, Tinkey said. As Coeur d’Alene grows and increases the amount of wastewater it pours into the river, the percentage of phosphorous it removes will have to climb even higher.
The equipment needed to do that can cost millions and may be needed within 15 years.
The newly completed upgrades at the sewage plant did not come cheaply or easily.
In 1981, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency threatened to stop growth in the city if the plant wasn’t expanded. The city virtually did so itself while developing a 20-year plan for expansion: It imposed a moratorium on new sewer hookups.
After nearly a decade of phased expansion using several engineers and builders, the city ran into problems in 1991 with its contractor, Construct Tech Corp. of Sandy, Utah. The city fired the company after learning it didn’t have the proper license to operate, was violating federal worksafety rules and was not complying with the terms of its contract.
Construct Tech sued the city and won a $2.4 million judgment in May 1994. The city appealed and a decision is pending.
It took the city nearly a year to hire replacement contractor Ellsworth Peck Construction, of American Fork, Utah. That company made up for the difference, Fredrickson said.
“They finished ahead of their own schedule, which was aggressive to begin with,” he said.
The city is now working with Post Falls, Rathdrum and Hayden to develop a regional plan to treat sewage. The plan may call for Coeur d’Alene to pump waste to Hayden to be sprayed over the prairie.
It is expected to be complete next year.
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