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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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City’s sewage plant fines may be reduced

The state Department of Labor and Industries is reducing fines against the city of Spokane in connection with a fatal tank failure at the city’s wastewater treatment plant last May 10.

The city is expected to pay $22,000 instead of the $66,600 in fines levied by L&I last November.

Roger Flint, city director of public works and utilities, said the reduction stems from a city appeal of the case, and an agreement in which the city will continue to resolve worker safety problems identified in the lengthy accident investigation, Flint said.

The City Council will be asked next week to approve an increase in a consultant contract to pay for new safety and training procedures that are being developed at the plant. A contract with Donald Schaechtel LLC is to be increased by $47,740 to $85,575.

Mike Cmos Jr., a longtime maintenance mechanic, was killed when the roof of the tank collapsed. He had climbed up on the roof of “digester” No. 3 to stop sewage sludge from spilling from roof vents. Three other workers were injured when a huge wave of sludge surged from the failed tank.

A separate independent investigation paid for by the city concluded the tank was accidentally overfilled, which caused the roof to suddenly lift upward and break apart. Cmos was trapped on the roof when it came apart. The broken roof dropped into the tank, sending a wave of sewage sludge spilling outward.

Cmos’ body was found near the bottom of the tank two days later.

In a related development, workers at the plant are raising money for a memorial to their fallen coworker.

The Mike Cmos Memorial Fund has been established at Spokane City Credit Union, 1930 N. Monroe, where contributions may be made.

Chuck Meyers, a longtime plant employee, also is selling hats to raise money for the memorial. The backs of the hats include the inscription, “In memory of Mike Cmos.” Hats may be ordered through Meyers by e-mail at cmeyers@spokanecity.org. They are $12 or $15.

Meyers said about $1,000 has been raised so far through hat sales and contributions. A committee of plant workers and family members has been formed to develop the memorial.

The plant last year was renamed the Riverside Park Water Reclamation Facility at the order of Mayor Jim West.

Following the accident, the state spent six months investigating worker safety violations. At the same time, the city hired an expert consultant from California to look into the cause of the accident. Mayor West appointed a citizen oversight committee, which is in the process of finishing its report, said Councilman Al French.

L&I initially issued 16 separate violations, 12 of which carried fines. One of the violations, which had an $11,000 fine, stemmed from a finding that the city had repeated a previous lapse found in its water chlorination procedures. The city appealed that fine since the previous violation involved the water department and not the wastewater department.

The city also argued that findings involving its methane gas production at the plant fell outside the state’s regulatory control.

The violations against the city involved inadequate training, safety information, hazard analysis and operating procedures. Flint said the 16 violations were being consolidated to a smaller list of violations through negotiations.

Elaine Fischer, spokeswoman for L&I in Olympia, confirmed Thursday that an agreement had been reached between the city and the state, but she did not provide details.

Rocco Treppiedi, the city’s risk manager, said L&I administrative officials reconsidered the findings and fines following a “reassumption conference” last December. That kept the city’s appeal out of administrative litigation, he said. “What they are doing is reissuing the citations,” Treppiedi said.

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