Sewage hearing tonight - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

Sewage hearing tonight

River mandate means rates may jump 60 percent

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Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 12:00 am

POST FALLS - The Post Falls City Council will hold a public hearing on proposed wastewater improvements and costs for Post Falls and Rathdrum tonight.

Wastewater rates for those cities are proposed to increase 60 percent over the next five years to help fund $30 million in treatment plant upgrades needed to meet future discharge permit requirements aimed at cleaning up the Spokane River. Post Falls treats Rathdrum's wastewater.

The hearing is at 6 at City Hall, 408 N. Spokane St.

City staff and JUB Engineering, the city's consultant, are recommending that the council adopt an option that includes both discharging treated wastewater to the river part of the year and land application.

"The meeting is to decide what alternative to go with," said Terry Werner, Post Falls public works director.

Area municipalities, including Post Falls, Coeur d'Alene and the Hayden Area Regional Sewer Board, discharge wastewater to the river, but are being required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce phosphorous and metals to improve fish habitat.

The proposed discharge permit is expected to be open for public comment this spring.

The Post Falls treatment plant is already removing 95 percent of the phosphorous, but will be required to remove about 99 percent of it from Feb. 1 to Oct. 31 under the proposed permit. City officials said they believe they'll be given about eight years to meet the new requirement.

The city's current discharge permit calls for removing at least 70 percent of the phosphorous in wastewater from March to October. (There are no limits for November through February.)

Increases in both existing wastewater rates and capitalization fees, one-time charges to new customers, are part of the funding plan.

Rates are proposed to increase 14 percent each year during fiscal years 2014 and 2015, 10 percent in 2016, 9 percent in 2017 and 7 percent in 2018. For the average monthly bill during those years, the amounts would increase from $33.64 to $49.20.

Capitalization fees are proposed to increase $95 - from $4,659 per to $4,755 - and will be updated on an annual basis.

The city would obtain the funding through a 20-year bond using the "judicial validation" process, which would not require a vote. The rate hikes would be needed to pay for the bond.

A resolution is on the council agenda to set a public hearing date for the bond.

The fee increases have been expected for several years, but details only recently surfaced during the city's planning efforts.

The Post Falls plan, in addition to calling for upgrades needed to meet the future permit, also contemplates a growth rate of 1 percent (154 to 161 new connections) per year and an annual operating and maintenance cost of $2.7 million to $3.6 million per year.

"We have to pay for the additional treatment that we are required to provide," Werner said.

He said if the city does not meet permit requirements, it can be fined up to $37,500 per day.

Post Falls owns 628 acres on the Rathdrum Prairie for land application, while Rathdrum owns 320. The process will ease discharging wastewater to the river during summer months, but isn't expected to start for at least a few more years.

* The council will also hold a budget workshop this morning at 7 at the police station, 1717 E. Polston Ave., and a workshop on economic incentives featuring Jobs Plus and the Idaho Department of Labor tonight at 5 at City Hall.

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