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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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City outlines deal to study water fluoridation

UPDATED: Mon., April 26, 2021

Spokane City Hall.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Spokane City Hall. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

It’s not a green light, but it is a start.

City officials outlined an agreement on Monday that would allow a study of fluoridation to move forward.

It’s likely more than a year before any fluoride would be added to the city’s supply of drinking water, if ever, but the agreement would end a monthslong stalemate between the Spokane City Council and Mayor Nadine Woodward.

The deal thus far is in principle only and has not yet been translated into written, legal language. It includes Woodward, the City Council and the Arcora Foundation, a nonprofit funding the effort.

It was discussed Monday during a meeting of the Public Infrastructure and Environmental Sustainability Committee.

The Arcora Foundation has agreed to adjust the terms of its $4 million grant to allow the city to study fluoridation without fear of having to pay the money back if it chooses not to move forward.

Under the new contract, the city would be able to spend up to $600,000 to study fluoride.

“This is a study, this is not the green light to go ahead,” Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said.

The study would help elucidate the feasibility and costs of adding fluoride to the city’s water supply, which consists of seven wells that would likely each require their own fluoridation equipment.

“Whatever you are on it, (the study) should be a win for everybody, which is why I think the mayor is moving ahead with this,” said Council President Breean Beggs.

Despite approval by the City Council and grant funding in hand, Woodward had held up the study because of concerns the money would have to be repaid if fluoride was not implemented.

The mayor also was adamant that city voters should be allowed to weigh in on fluoride before it’s added to the water supply – a position several council members have also taken.

The agreement satisfies the mayor’s first concern, but does not address the second.

It remains unclear if or when an advisory vote on fluoridation would be held. The city has held three previously, with each failing, most recently in 2000.

Woodward told The Spokesman-Review last week that she remains unwavering in her call for an advisory vote.

“The council can do this, the Supreme Court has said they can,” Woodward said. “Just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should. I think you need to listen to the voters.”

Still, that vote would only be a suggestion, not a mandate. If the City Council only narrowly supports fluoridation, Woodward could be the deciding factor by issuing a veto or signing the law.

She has yet to take a stance on fluoridation in principle.

No matter the results of the feasibility study, fluoridation is sure to meet continued opposition from fluoride opponents who believe it poses a health risk.

Regardless of whether the public gets a chance to have a say at the ballot box, the City Council would be expected to adopt a resolution that pledges to openly review and discuss the results of the feasibility study before making a final decision.

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