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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Kootenai, Spokane commissions get together

Spokane County Commissioners Phil Harris, far left, and Mark Richard, far right, meet with Kootenai County Commissioners Rick Currie and Katie Brodie, center, for lunch at the Coeur d'Alene Resort on Wednesday. 
 (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane County Commissioners Phil Harris, far left, and Mark Richard, far right, meet with Kootenai County Commissioners Rick Currie and Katie Brodie, center, for lunch at the Coeur d'Alene Resort on Wednesday. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Kootenai County commissioners thanked their Spokane counterparts Wednesday for not second-guessing them about how to handle fuel leaks at the BNSF Railway’s refueling depot near Rathdrum.

Spokane County commission Chairman Phil Harris offered support to Kootenai County officials but said the commission has no intention of opining on recent fuel leaks. It’s the same hands-off approach the commission took in 2000, during debate over construction of the $42 million depot that sits over the sole source of drinking water for both Kootenai and Spokane counties.

It’s a stark contrast to the vocal role the Spokane City Council has had in both the initial construction of the depot and the recent leaks. And it isn’t the first time the Kootenai County commission has had harsh words for the Spokane council.

In 2002 the City Council recommended against permitting the depot. Recently the council supported the Kootenai County commission’s request to close the depot for investigation, saying that it has a responsibility to represent Spokane residents who get their water from the aquifer.

“If we were doing something in my county and you came out and opposed it, I would kinda be upset,” Harris told Kootenai County commissioners during lunch at the Coeur d’Alene Resort.

Kootenai County Commissioner Rick Currie said he is disappointed with the Spokane City Council and its judgmental jabs, especially from Councilman Al French. French, an architect, was involved last year in the illegal excavation of the Spokane River near Post Falls. Spokane businessman Thomas Hamilton, who hired French, faces criminal charges. A separate civil suit names Hamilton, French and Clearwater Summit Group.

“Now he’s worried about our environmental issues,” Kootenai County Commissioner Katie Brodie added about French.

French declined to comment about the river excavating. He said the Spokane City Council wasn’t being critical of the Kootenai County commissioners but only suggesting that they get an independent review. He said that’s what Spokane did last year after the city’s wastewater treatment plant exploded.

“We were trying to suggest that for the interest of the public the same kind of transparency should be there,” French said. “All of us have a vested interest in the quality of the river.”

Commissioners from the two counties meet periodically to discuss issues that cross the state line. Wednesday’s discussion was dominated by Kootenai County commissioners giving the three Spokane officials an update on the fuel leaks. The elected officials also traded notes on issues ranging from how commissioners’ salaries are set to the various ways juvenile detention facilities are operated.

Currie reported that he had visited the BNSF depot Tuesday and that at least 160 workers were at the site and that cracks in the concrete are “absolutely all over the place.”

Crews are repairing extensive cracks throughout the refueling platform and leaky gaskets on one of the underground fuel containment membranes. Several leaks have been discovered at the facility since it opened seven months ago. At least one of the leaks caused an unknown amount of diesel fuel to spill into the aquifer 160 feet beneath the site.

A Kootenai County judge ordered the depot closed until the problems are fixed. BNSF has specialists working around the clock to make the repairs before Tuesday, when the judge is expected to decide whether to reopen the depot.

Kootenai County commissioners said they are relying on the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to determine whether the repairs are adequate.

Commission Chairman Gus Johnson told the Spokane commissioners that they should ask the Washington Department of Ecology to review any reports and findings by the Idaho DEQ and make sure that they agree.

“It’s good for you to be able to answer the questions,” Johnson said. “You will get them because the water goes (your) direction.”

The two boards plan to meet again in June.

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