Cd'A readies for vote - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

Cd'A readies for vote

Citizens may get final say on wastewater plant

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Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013 12:00 am

COEUR d'ALENE - It could go to a vote.

Coeur d'Alene's legal department said Wednesday it's recommending the city hold an election to get approval to pay for up to $36.3 million worth of federally mandated improvements to its wastewater treatment plant - a move that comes in response to one councilman's pledge to tie the matter up in court if the city didn't ask voters.

Staff has crafted a proposed bond ordinance that it will ask the City Council to approve during a special meeting at noon today that would put the issue before voters on May 21.

It means the council could decide on whether to hold an election on wastewater treatment plant upgrades before it even knows the fate of its judicial confirmation - the way it originally sought to secure the money to pay for the project.

"It could put us in an unfortunate situation if a judge rules it's ordinary and necessary, but we're" putting on an election instead, City Attorney Mike Gridley said, calling such a scenario a "waste of time and money."

Yet, staff is recommending the city go the election route because time is tight.

The deadline to notify Kootenai County that the city intends to hold an election is Monday.

The city had thought it had more time, but the state Legislature just recently extended election notification times from 45 days to 50 days, shortening the timeline just enough to push the issue to the City Council a week earlier than expected.

The city had originally sought permission for the loan from a judge through a judicial confirmation. But City Councilman Steve Adams, who originally voted in favor of that route, changed his mind and spoke out against it in court. He prefers an election, he said, and pledged to appeal the judge's decision if it ruled in favor of the city.

"What's the urgency?" he said Wednesday of securing funds through confirmation, rather than through a vote a couple of months later.

He pointed to the fact that the compliance schedule to get on board with the new federal requirements hasn't been established yet.

"There's never been anything solid, 100 percent, 'you get this done by this time' - that's never been the case," he said.

But a change in plans could affect financing.

The city had been ready to secure a $7.7 million IDEQ loan at a 2 percent interest rate to pay for the first phase of upgrades to the plant, a rate the city's finance department said it wanted and likely couldn't get on the open market. The interest rate on the proposed bond issue, according to the drafted ordinance, is estimated at 3.24 percent.

The city has also penciled in $75,000 for election-related costs, including campaigning on its behalf.

Councilman Mike Kennedy said Wednesday he's not abandoning hope for getting approval through the courts despite the recent shift in direction heading into the special meeting today.

"I'm an optimist that we won't have to go to an election because the judge will rule in our favor and Steve will see the light and not appeal," he said. "That would be the best-case scenario."

First District Judge John Luster still had the judicial confirmation under advisement as of Wednesday afternoon, although a ruling had been expected by Wednesday.

Adams, who was reviewing the proposed ordinance language Wednesday, said he could be willing to wait until a November election if he feels the language isn't correct before deadline, or if the issue fails in May.

He said he would expect the agencies involved to continue to work together if Coeur d'Alene has to wait until November, and has called possible federal penalties like fines and moratoriums "rhetoric."

Adams is correct in that hard compliance deadlines haven't been established.

They are very close to being completed, however, those involved said.

Here's how the remaining schedule could shake out: The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality will likely send a 401 certification to the EPA in about two weeks. Once it's in the EPA's hands, and changes to the draft permits aren't needed, the permits will be opened for public comment for up to 60 days. If changes aren't warranted after public comment is taken, final permits should be issued.

That could be months out yet, Coeur d'Alene, IDEQ and EPA officials told The Press.

But once the final permits are issued, the compliance schedule starts. The compliance schedule is spread out over 10 years, with dischargers needing to hit benchmark requirements in year increments along the way.

The first benchmark is exactly one year after the permit is issued. And while it's a 10-year timeline, the final benchmark includes two years of data reported with it.

If compliance isn't met, fines for not complying could hit around $1 million a month, and the EPA could prohibit new development from tapping into the wastewater plant system.

The draft permit also outlines punishment for "knowing violations" - basically for dischargers who willingly thumb their noses at the new standards.

That's a criminal violation that could earn the culprit fines and up to three years in jail.

"I don't do felonies," said Sid Fredrickson, wastewater superintendent, who called waiting for a November election - should the measure fail in May - "uncomfortably" close to when final permits could be issued and the compliance schedule starts.

Adams hasn't said he favors ignoring the new standards, just that he prefers putting the funding issue to a vote.

Ultimately, the IDEQ signs off on the compliance schedule.

John Tindall, IDEQ engineering manager, said he couldn't speculate on what the agencies would do if the permits were issued - essentially starting the compliance clock - and all the dischargers had their funding secured save Coeur d'Alene, which was waiting for a November election.

It could warrant a meeting with those involved to see what steps would have to be taken, he said.

"That would throw a lot of things in question," Tindall said. "If (an election) fails, how do they proceed from there? They still have to comply ... That's not going away."

An election would be a 180 degree turn from where the city had been headed, asking for a judicial confirmation in light of the mandate and severe fines.

A judicial confirmation is when a judge orders a project is "ordinary and necessary," and therefore voter approval isn't necessary for a municipality to take on debt to fund it as it normally is because the project must happen.

The city achieved a $15 million judicial confirmation for plant upgrades in 2007.

The city of Hayden recently secured around $18 million for upgrades planned with the new requirements, and Post Falls is in the process of requesting confirmation from a judge.

When Adams changed his mind unbeknownst to the rest of the members, it isolated him from the rest of the council on the legal issue. Adams took exception to being excluded from legal talk on the matter, and tempers have flared at a pair of public meetings, including the use of swear words, a filed complaint and alleged threats.

The majority of the council, however, doesn't side with Adams, who cites the Idaho Constitution that outlines debt protocol as his reason to pursue the election route.

They said they're frustrated because the last-minute change of mind could sidetrack a process that has been years in the making. The last time the permits were up for public comment was 2007, and a lot, including a court case, has happened since then. They've said the timing on the issue is especially bad because everyone involved is on the brink of agreement, and campaigning for wastewater upgrades could be an unglamorous, if not difficult, sell to the public on short notice. Judicial confirmations, they point out, are legal.

Worse, they've added, is if an election or two fails, and the compliance schedule kicks in, a way to pay for the upgrade could be increased wastewater rates.

If they wanted to pay for upgrades over five years through rate increases, residential monthly bills would increase from around $24 to $70, and commercial would go from roughly $7 to $20 per thousand gallons.

Voter approval on the election would be a simple majority.

Today's meeting is at the public library.

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  • Equalizer posted at 10:01 pm on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    Equalizer Posts: 7

    Just how much is this going to cost us Taxpayers? Is it ever going to end? The Priorities of the people who run the city of CDA have gone to the waste side.There are allot of very smart individuals posting here with legitimate concerns.Makes me wonder what the heck is going on with CDA.

  • ancientemplar posted at 7:14 pm on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    ancientemplar Posts: 1209

    I guess we can vote if the amount is over $30M but can't if its only $20+M

  • concernedcitizen posted at 6:56 pm on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    concernedcitizen Posts: 2530

    My next question (rhetorical of course) is how long do you think this info will be up on the waste water site or will the city have it removed as they have done with the LCDC site?

  • LTRLTR posted at 6:42 pm on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    LTRLTR Posts: 1171


    You can find the facts at the Wastewater Department site and click on Wastewater Treatment Plan. Someone would have to study wastewater's budget for the last several years to see has has happened to revenues.

  • concernedcitizen posted at 5:48 pm on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    concernedcitizen Posts: 2530

    Do you know how long they have had a $5 million per year revenue? As you have pointed out, they should have the money in place to upgrade without additional cost to taxpayers since they have been meeting the requirements all along.

    OR as usual they expect existing taxpayers to pay for their wealthy developer friends to profit at taxpayers expense. Kind of like SD-271. Build new schools for new development and tax the H3!! out of the rest of us.

  • LTRLTR posted at 5:11 pm on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    LTRLTR Posts: 1171

    Any utility that collects user fees can only use the revenue for its own operation and maintenance and can not be used for any other purpose.

  • concernedcitizen posted at 4:19 pm on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    concernedcitizen Posts: 2530

    Please explain to me why the there is revenue to a taxable city service? Shouldn't that revenue be used for upgrades and future expenses? Where has the excess $5 million a year been going?

  • Mary Souza posted at 4:03 pm on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    Mary Souza Posts: 794

    Very interesting. Thanks for the info!

  • LTRLTR posted at 3:06 pm on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    LTRLTR Posts: 1171

    More food for thought.....If Wastewater has a typical revenue balance of $5 million a year and if you multiple that by 10 years, it would equal to $50 million. WOW, the city can complete all necessary upgrades without charging an extra dine.

  • LTRLTR posted at 2:57 pm on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    LTRLTR Posts: 1171

    Mary Souza:

    My information is from the City's website. My only intent is to show the scare tactics do not line up with the truth.

    If the typical annual revenues are $20.3 million and typical annual expenditures are $15.5 million, than what happens to the typical revenue balance of $5 million each year? Just food for thought!

  • Mary Souza posted at 2:17 pm on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    Mary Souza Posts: 794

    Interesting, LTRLTR, that you report:

    Average BOD Removal = 97% (Required 85%)

    I'm watching the special council meeting right now, and Sid Fredrickson, Dir. of Wastewater, just said we are "pushing right up to" the requirement on BOD Removal.

    What do you think?

  • LTRLTR posted at 2:00 pm on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    LTRLTR Posts: 1171

    Read below facts from the city wastewater website. Please note that the City exceeds current DEQ standards. No dire emergency as stated by your city officials

    *****Wastewater Utility Facts*****

    Collection System: 210 miles of pipe, 3700 manholes and 10 “lift stations".

    Treatment Plant: Primary Trickling Filter/Solids Contact ® Secondary Clarification ® Disinfection/De-chlorination.


    Average BOD Removal = 97% (Required 85%)

    Average Total Suspended Solids Removal = 96% (Required 85%)

    Average Summer Phosphorus Removal = 86% (Required 85%)

    Average Daily Summer Ammonia Treatment = 563 pounds

    Population Served = 44,000+

    Number of Customers (Accounts) = 17,900

    Average Daily Sewage Per Person = 74 gallons per day

    Chemical Cost Per Day for Phosphorus Removal = $600.00

    Chorine Used Per Day = 100 Pounds

    Sulfur Dioxide Used Per Day = 32 Pounds

    Annual Plant Gas & Electric Bill = $261,000

    Average Daily Dry-Weather Flow = 3.6 million gallons per day

    Maximum Peak Daily Flow Capacity = 20 mgd

    Nominal Design Flow Without Nitrification = 6 mgd

    Staffed 7 days a week; 8 hours a day; 365 days a year.

    Compost: Aerated Static Piles with Aerated Curing. 21 Days in Piles Followed By 30 Days of Curing.

    Total Utility Staff = 6 plant operators; 1 plant mechanic; 6 collection operators; 3 lab analysts; 2 compost operators; 7 administrative & project managers = 25 or 7.5% of total city staff of 280.

    Typical annual revenues = $20.3 million or 27% of a total city budget of $76.4 million.

    Typical annual expenditures = $15.5 million or 23% of a total city budget of $66.6 million.

  • concernedcitizen posted at 12:06 pm on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    concernedcitizen Posts: 2530

    Right on LTRLTR. If is for the FUTURE development and they want to saddle it on the backs of the current residents.

    The system was "UPGRADED" in 2007 which is within the 10 year window knowing. Why wasn't it important then?

  • heatherfeather posted at 11:26 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    heatherfeather Posts: 297

    If the feds mandate it, they should pay for it. Tell Helicopter Ben to crank up that printing press!

  • LTRLTR posted at 11:12 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    LTRLTR Posts: 1171

    I would like to offer up one more piece of information.

    The City of Coeur d’Alene forced Wastewater to lease out Harbor Center for 99 years to the University of Idaho for $10 a year. Harbor Center was purchased with your funding from your monthly sewer bill.

    The City of Coeur d’Alene had a choice to sell Harbor Center to pay for sewer plant upgrades, keep Harbor Center for for future plant upgrades, or make the property owners double pay for utility services to help pay for education.

    It appears the Wastewater Utility is a front for other pet projects at the citizen's expense. Don't you agree?

  • LTRLTR posted at 10:38 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    LTRLTR Posts: 1171

    I have mentioned that Wastewater Treatment plant improvements are always in motion in trying to stay ahead of DEQ requirements.

    City officials are always in motion too, using scare tactics as Councilmember Adams has expressed. "Adams is correct in that hard compliance deadlines haven't been established."

    I went online to search the council minutes where upgrades have been approved just in the last few years. The following is from council minutes.

    'The wastewater utility in 2001 received judicial confirmation to upgrade the plant in aggregate to
    $28,000,000.00. The first bonds were issued in 2007 for $15,000,000.00 and acquired by DEQ."

    'Council approved the DEQ loan in December 2009. The maximum dollar amount was $13,000,000.'

    So since 2001, a total of $28 million has been completed. Now the city is asking for $36.3 million for another 10 years.

    Folks: There is no emergency to justifty the Mayor and cohorts treating people the way they do and call people uninformed and morons/xxxxx.

    I personally ask the citizens of Coeur d'Alene to do your own research on reasons why you should remove the Mayor and cohorts from their official positions or show your support in their personal agendas.

  • concernedcitizen posted at 10:00 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    concernedcitizen Posts: 2530

    Why wasn't it fixed back in '07 when the plant was upgraded?

    timeless, do you believe in the Idaho State Constitution?

    deanna, do YOU believe in the Idaho State Constitution?

    How about MAD'am mayor?


  • SamuelStanding posted at 9:51 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    SamuelStanding Posts: 554

    So "Staff writer: Tom Hasslinger" where is the true "Investigative reporting" here? The Mayor and City Council members had to know this issue was on the block of Necessaties, yet they did vote to spend tax payer money on "Fluff". How can we, the public have ANY confidence in LCDC or the elected officials when here is a PRIME example of wasting taxpayer funds. We NEED waste water treatment, we do not NEED an expensive rennovation of an existing park.

    I would like to see these questions asked directly to these individuals / separately. They need to be SPECIFIC on how they were will to OVERLOOK the needs of many for the imbellishment of three. Don't just REPORT, INVESTIGATE.

  • Timeless posted at 9:04 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    Timeless Posts: 479

    ScreenName: I agree that the City budget is tight right now, as a result of both projects. But I also whole heartedly believe that it will all be worth it. Have patience, enjoy the new McEuen Park. In 8 years the Lakes District is retired and it will all be paid for.
    Have a good day. Signing out......

  • Timeless posted at 8:58 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    Timeless Posts: 479

    Screen Name: are you proud of that asinine, juvenile remark?

  • Screen Name posted at 8:34 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    Screen Name Posts: 835

    Here is my point. You said: "Upgrades to sewer systems are not free or cheap. It has to be done, period." The City has limited funds. Why not spend those limited funds on that which has to be done, before spending those limited funds in that which does not need to be done (new park)?

  • Timeless posted at 8:23 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    Timeless Posts: 479

    DeNiles: Is it REALLY about the State law or more about putting a stick in the spokes of anything the current Council proposes? I think the latter.

  • Timeless posted at 8:10 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    Timeless Posts: 479

    Voxpop: I have always leaned Republican. However, when I watch the local Repubs and listen to their constant negative roadblocks, it makes me feel ashamed.
    The river quality and what we dump into it, has nothing to do with Party affiliation. Again, it's simply The Right Thing To Do. Upgrades to sewer systems are not free or cheap. It has to be done, period. If you are connected to the City sewer, you have to do your part to help pay for improvements. Move to the County where you can maintain your own septic system, if you don't want to pay a couple bucks a year to be on the City system. Stop complaining about it.

  • DeNiles posted at 8:03 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    DeNiles Posts: 2450

    So what Timeless? Does an ecological issue somehow warrant not following state laws especially by our elected officials?

  • librtyhuntr posted at 8:01 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    librtyhuntr Posts: 317

    oh ya the river is so polluted , they are dragging bodies out every time someone goes in .What an inane appraisal.I will reference another contributor . I would say it is more like someone making me buy a new car when I don't need or want one.

  • Justin Cottrell posted at 7:58 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    Justin Cottrell Posts: 157

    The city is eager to bow to the supposed demands of the EPA, all to slow the quantity of phosphates that enter the stream. The stream must stay healthy they claim, in order to protect and beautify this area. However I don't see any of the Fab 4 making a fuss about the chlorine they add to the municipal water at a rate of .2-.3 ppm.

    While the EPA seems to think chlorine is safe in that sized quantities for human consumption without adverse effects, medical professionals disagree. A growing number of doctors and health professionals think chlorine consumption is the 2nd highest cause of cancer in this country. It seems the EPA doesn't let it be known chlorine interacts with trace organic compounds in the water to form trihalomethanes (THM), the substance known to cause cancer.

    I guess the health of the fishes is more important than the citizens of Coeur d'Alene. And that is why we run our water through a Berkey.

  • ancientemplar posted at 7:55 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    ancientemplar Posts: 1209

    Now they're developing the scare tactics. The rate increase for a non bond deal rate increase has changed over the past week from $35/month growing to $70/month for residential users, to $25/month growing to$70/month. That's almost 15% in one week. The citizens will see more of these scare tactics sooner than later.
    "If the city votes you better approve the bond." I can hear it now.

  • voxpop posted at 7:53 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    voxpop Posts: 738

    Ah yes, the typical socialist retort. "Do it for the environment. We don't care how much of OTHER people's money we spend. It's for the greater good!!!" You babble is the BS. When it comes to tax payer's money it's doing the most with the least. Not spend everyone ELSE'S money - such as the park wanted by downtown business special interests.

  • mister d posted at 7:33 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    mister d Posts: 1531

    I think most voters are so sick of the current city government and their stupid use of our hard earned money. I will be glad when they are gone in November, just hopefully some qualified candidates are elected.

  • Timeless posted at 7:32 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    Timeless Posts: 479

    You can continue to screech about who said or did what , when. But isn't the goal of all of this, an environmental IMPROVEMENT. Come on!! Let's just get on with doing the right thing , improving the quality of the river is more important than any of this bs.

  • Mary Souza posted at 7:07 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    Mary Souza Posts: 794

    The reporter on this article keeps saying that Steve Adams "prefers" a public vote on this issue. No, Steve believes that the Idaho Constitution requires a public vote on this expenditure. It's not a whim or a preference, Steve is standing up for what he thinks the law mandates.

    A public vote would cost about $17,000. The City has seen this wastewater upgrade coming for more than 10 years, so there's no emergency here.

    Did they wait until after the McEuen Park contract was set and signed before they made this huge wastewater expenditure public?

  • DeNiles posted at 6:42 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    DeNiles Posts: 2450

    What Gridley is admitting is that he's known all along that this decision needed to be put to a public referendum. He knew that Adams was correct and still trashed the man. This newspaper trashed Adams in its editorial and owes him a public apology. Kennedy, the Mayor and Gridley all tried to stretch the law and get this done without a vote.......... and if Gridley knew better.......... they all knew better.

  • concernedcitizen posted at 6:03 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    concernedcitizen Posts: 2530

    cd1013 and Screen Name are both correct. These people are out of control and out of their minds.

  • Screen Name posted at 5:18 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    Screen Name Posts: 835

    OK, so the City knew it had to make a significant expenditure to improve the treatment plant to bring it up to standards or risk civil penalties and/or criminal penalties and yet the City spent millions of dollars on a Park instead of upgrading the treatment plant?

    The City is ignoring the essentials and focusing on the fluff - at my expense. I don't buy a new car if I need a new roof. I allocate me resources to take care of the necessities first. That is because I don't have unlimited resources. Apparently, the City believes they do have unlimited resources - the tax payers.

    Since the City spent our tax money to build a new park instead of improving the treatment plant, maybe I should take a dump in the new park.

  • cd1013 posted at 3:52 am on Thu, Mar 28, 2013.

    cd1013 Posts: 163

    So the city must have known it needed to improve the treatment plant long before the McEuen project. The treatment plant is in the LCDC district but they still pursued a new park over neccessary infrastructure? Help me out folks.

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