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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington Voices

Accord on sewer proposal

City Attorney Mike Connelly credited with moving discussions forward

Spokane Valley City Attorney Mike Connelly got a pat on the back Tuesday for diplomacy on a contentious issue that could have plugged every toilet in the city.

City Council members wanted some adjustments in the fine print, but generally were pleased with a proposed agreement to keep construction of a new Spokane County sewage treatment plant on schedule.

The proposed interlocal agreement calls for the city to send its sewage to the $170 million treatment plant Spokane County will build and operate.

The city would be prohibited from creating any competing sewage-disposal system or contracting with the city of Spokane until bonds for the new plant are retired.

According to bond attorney Roy Koegen, the city’s pledge is essential if the county is to get the best interest rate available.

Mayor Rich Munson and Councilman Dick Denenny thanked Connelly for his efforts to fend off a crisis.

“We really had started to approach an impasse,” Munson said.

“You stopped the circle,” Denenny said, alluding discussions that had gone round and round without progress.

City-county relations have been frayed by disputes over several city contracts for county service, and some of the frustration was starting to creep into rhetoric about the sewage treatment plant. Munson and Denenny were careful to say city officials’ concerns about the treatment plant are limited to worst-case scenarios, not quarrels with county commissioners.

Still, some tension was apparent Tuesday when Connelly pointed out that a three-member “Policy Advisory Board” would be dominated by the county. Members would include a City Council representative, a county commissioner and the county utilities director.

“The previous agreements had no advisory board whatsoever, so we’re moving in the right direction,” Connelly said.

But, Munson said, “If we’re going to be responsible for 70 percent of the business, we should have a lot more than just one out of three. As a minimum, it should be 50-50. I would prefer it to be 3-2 in favor of our representatives.”

Denenny suggested adding a citizen representative, and Councilman Bill Gothmann proposed a five-member board with a Spokane Valley citizen and equal numbers of city and county officials.

Connelly said he would take that proposal to the negotiating table, along with council concerns that the advisory board not supplant regular reports to the council.

Munson said he was “a tiny bit uncomfortable” that the board would have only advisory power.

“The impression I got was that, if you’re not willing to assume some risk for paying the bonds back, you’re not going to get past an advisory board,” Connelly replied.

The agreement guarantees the city “absolutely no risk for the bonds,” Connelly said.

The draft also addresses council’s desire for an escape clause in case the county can’t deliver sewer service to new customers within six months of a request. The clause envisions large industrial customers shunning Spokane Valley if the new treatment plant isn’t in operation before the county’s allotted capacity at the Spokane municipal treatment plant is exhausted.

Also, the City Council could cancel the agreement if the county fails to provide service for more than 120 consecutive days.

Munson said the escape clauses support “the council’s position of having an alternative in place in case something goes wrong.” City officials are worried about delays in obtaining permits to operate the plant and discharge treated effluent.

“We know that there is a great level of potential for lawsuits that could delay the issuance of a permit or stay the actual operation of the plant, so I think we’ve taken the right steps to protect ourselves and our citizens,” Munson said.

Council members directed Connelly to seek provisions that the agreement would expire with the initial construction bonds and that the agreement is limited to the current plan to discharge treated effluent into the Spokane River. They want to renegotiate the agreement if new bonds are issued or a more expensive discharge system is used.

Except for complicated “what-ifs,” it would be easy to reach agreement with county commissioners, Denenny said. But he noted the council’s options would always be limited by the fact that Spokane County owns all the sewer lines in the city.

Connelly said he would present a final draft for council action on July 14, a week before county commissioners want to sell the construction bonds.

In other business Tuesday, the council approved a Discovery Playground construction contract that is nearly $470,000 above the city’s estimate. The $1,476,184 base bid by Ginno Construction is the lowest of three the city received.

One reason for the overage was that the estimate, prepared by a Colorado consultant, failed to allow for Washington’s requirement for the city to pay “prevailing” wages – which typically are based on union contracts.

“Those consultants screwed up big-time,” businessman Dick Behm told the council. “I think you should reprimand those consultants.”

Parks Director Mike Stone outlined a series of budget adjustments to cover the overage, and said he hopes to find cost reductions during construction that would allow a couple of optional items to be added to the project. Most of the overage is to be paid with $405,000 left over from construction of the CenterPlace Regional Event Center.

Denenny said noted the playground, designed to accommodate disabilities, was part of the original plans for CenterPlace. The three-fourth-acre playground will be in front of CenterPlace in Mirabeau Point Park.

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