Lawsuit blasts river cleanup plan

Dischargers allege EPA violated Clean Water Act; Cd'A to file complaint

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Rob Stensland, of Post Falls, reels in his line while fishing for small mouth bass Tuesday as his niece, Amy, wades in the shallow water of the Spokane River at Black Bay Park. The City of Post Falls and Hayden Area Regional Sewer Board has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alleging a violation of the Clean Water Act earlier this year.

POST FALLS - Not so fast on the Spokane River pollution cleanup plan, say area agencies that discharge wastewater into the stream.

A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by the city of Post Falls and Hayden Area Regional Sewer Board alleges the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency violated the Clean Water Act in May by approving the plan developed by Washington Ecology.

"Ecology established the Spokane River TMDL (total maximum daily load cleanup plan) in a rushed fashion to avoid political accountability in Washington and transferred a disproportionate burden of cleaning Washington's water bodies onto the citizens of Idaho," the complaint states.

"The (plan) is the product of an unlawful, biased and scientifically flawed decision-making process."

The lawsuit, which comes after the dischargers' appeal to Ecology on the plan was denied, seeks to make the plan void because it was allegedly developed arbitrarily and improperly applies water quality standards, among other reasons.

The filing said the waste load allocation between Idaho and Washington is inequitable based on the proportionate share of the land mass in the region, proportionate amount of water contributed to the Lake Spokane reservoir at the end of the river in Washington and proportionate share of the projected 2027 population.

EPA and Post Falls officials declined to comment on the suit, citing ongoing litigation.

Coeur d'Alene on Tuesday night decided it will file its own complaint that will be consolidated with the Post Falls and HARSB suit.

Coeur d'Alene attorney Mike Gridley said each agency has its own interpretation of the law, "but we're all in this together."

"The council is very concerned that we're being asked to meet a standard that we can't," Gridley said, adding that the complaint will be likely be filed within two weeks. "We're being held to a different standard than (those in Washington)."

The plan, which has been in the works for about 12 years, seeks to reduce phosphorous, which leads to algae growth and the depletion of oxygen from water that fish need to live.

The EPA will issue new discharge permits in Idaho and Ecology in Washington. The proposed permits were expected to be available for public comment in August and issued in early 2011, but the suit will likely delay the process.

Idaho dischargers have said they don't mind doing their fair share to clean up the river, are exploring new treatment technologies and implementing costly plant upgrades.

But they believe the plan is unfair, would limit growth in Idaho and could nearly double residential sewer rates. EPA officials earlier said they don't see any equity issues between dischargers in the two states.

The plan calls for a reduction in pollution from industrial and municipal pipes by approximately 80,000 pounds of phosphorus a year, making it one of the most stringent in the nation. Dischargers will have up to 10 years to comply with new discharge limits in the plan, with extension up to 20 years possible under some circumstances.

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