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White Bird City continues talks on water issues

Other agenda items:

Jerry Mackie, public works director, reported the two wells are keeping up with demand. He also noted he purchased heat lamps to keep the wells from accumulating ice buildup.

The council received a draft of an ordinance defining recreational vehicles and parking permits for those types of vehicles in the city. Council member Barb Lowe requested a work session to review the ordinance. The work session was scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 20.

Discussion on rates charged by the White Bird Road District for seal coating. Pilant states the cost of $20,000 was firm and was substantially less than the last job charged out by the department. Council member Janis Comrie suggested the city look into funds available from the State of Idaho.

Next meeting is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11 at the White Bird City Hall, 212 River St.

— The bulk of the two-hour White Bird City Council meeting Wednesday, Dec. 14 centered on moving forward with upgrades to the city’s wastewater system. Kelly Dahlquist, community development specialist with Clearwater Economic Development Association (CEDA), met with council members to discuss planning for the future.

“We lost about nine months and that’s not the end of the world by all means,” Dahlquist said. “We’ve got to pick up the ball and run with it or drop it. Right now, [CEDA] is driving it more than what we’re comfortable with. The clerk is usually the driving force and maybe you’re not as informed as you should have been. We need you to get engaged. We are hoping someone in this group will step forward as the project leader.”

Mayor Rod Pilant responded he was confused, he felt the city had completed all necessary tasks required of them to date.

“I must be really missing something,” he said. “Are we to be finding our own bids for this? Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?”

Dahlquist noted she was under the impression the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (MPDES) permit forms had not been signed by the city and submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for approval.

“I supplied all the paperwork to the [city] attorney,” Pilant said. Adam Green of Grangeville is the White Bird city attorney. He was not present at the meeting.

Pilant later noted he signed a set of papers and mailed those to the EPA. He also kept the remaining unsigned copy as reference for the city.

Stuart Hurley, engineer with Mountain Water Works on conference via telephone, asked if the information was sent via certified mail, it was not. He also asked if a letter of receipt was sent to the city from the EPA, which has not been received.

“Someone needs to reach out to the EPA and find out if they received it,” he said. “I can do that, I will make a phone call and follow up with an e-mail to the clerk and the mayor.”

This discussion was followed by Pilant and other council members noting confusion over what is expected of the city and how those expectations are communicated. Dahlquist stated she will draft a chart of what needs to happen and who is responsible for completing the task. It will also include timelines for the city to reference.

“We all need to be on the same page to move forward,” she said.

Background on the issue

The Idaho Conservation League filed a lawsuit May 6, 2014, in U.S. District Court of Idaho against the city of White Bird for discharging its lagoons into White Bird Creek. The ICL states this action is a violation of the Clean Water Act.

In a July 2016 town hall meeting, the MPDES permit application was submitted to the city council for signatures and was to be forwarded to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for approval. The EPA then reviews the situation and considers consent for the permit.

The city needs to upgrade its lagoons and repair the mechanical system – including pipes, manholes, and the pump station. The city is looking at a cost of $600,000 to repair the system. With all fees and engineer costs, the city is looking at about $1.2 million in expenses.

Two years ago, the city council raised sewer rates from $25 to $40. With a plan of action and what funding will be available to the city still uncertain, potential rate increases are still up in the air.

CEDA submitted a grant application in 2014 on behalf of the city which was approved. The U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development grant offered $525,000. The Department of Commerce granted $350,000 to pay for engineer fees and design. They city would have needed a loan for about $275,000 and had already committed about $50,000 to the project. With hiccups in the project, the grant could not proceed.

Once the EPA receives the permit application, Dahlquist said in July, she can go back to rural development and find out what level of support it can commit now. Once that is determined, the loan amount will be refigured and cost to the community re-evaluated.


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