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Cottonwood ponders employee health benefits, well containment

— The Cottonwood City Council continues to discuss issues of containment regarding well number five at the airport. It also reviewed a quote from Blue Cross for employee health insurance at its regular meeting Monday, Nov. 14.

The airport well topic has been ongoing for several months following a concern raised by a community member about potential for contamination. Pat Holthaus has been looking into any potential regulations related to airports and well containment.

Holthaus reported at the meeting he spoke with at least four individuals, among them officials from Idaho County Airport, the Forest Service, Stout Aviation in Lewiston and an official from the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.

“Everywhere I go the answer is no,” Holthaus said in terms of regulations on containment areas.

A lengthy discussion centered primarily on agricultural sprayers who utilize the airport to load chemicals onto their aircraft before flying out of the facility. Concerns were raised on what regulations are necessary to protect the well should a spill occur and whether a permit should be required by those users.

Because Holthaus found no evidence of other facilities having regulations, Mayor Shelli Schumacher asked, “Are we reinventing the wheel here?”

Council Member Ron Grant replied, “Well, we have a wellhead here and that is what sets us apart.”

The council discussed the possibility of marking on the asphalt, at a designated distance from the well, where loading could occur. It also mentioned a possible requirement for absorbent material being carried by all users who will be loading chemicals onto an aircraft.

City attorney Joe Wright stated code specifies any business operating out of the city airport must have a permit. Schumacher inquired whether sprayers would fall into this category since they officially list their business address elsewhere.

“I think a judge would be inclined to say he’s operating it here,” he said. “It would be different if he loads somewhere else and flies out of the airport.”

Wright suggested the council might want to look at the containment area at the Nez Perce airport. He also agreed to begin writing up a policy for city approval regarding use of environmentally hazardous chemicals at the airport.

Insurance compliance

Schumacher announced at the Oct. 11 city meeting it was non-compliant in regards to a Voluntary Employee’s Beneficiary Association (VEBA) account agreement. A special meeting was called Nov. 1 for council to meet with Rich Dickman, senior client consultant for Gallagher VEBA, and Dominic Lustig, Camas Prairie Insurance, to discuss options for meeting requirements.

At the Nov. 14 meeting, Schumacher presented the quotes received from Blue Cross. City clerk Carol Altman will review the options with the city’s employees, three of the six attended the meeting and received the information. The council discussed the possibility of a special meeting if more than one employee has an interest in accepting a medical plan.

The city must have more than one employee willing to sign up to qualify for a group plan. VEBA requires the city offer a group plan, rather than individual policies. If only one employee is willing to sign up for a medical insurance plan, the city will not be required to insure a single person.

Jack Duman, council member, clarified the city currently pays $550 toward a medical savings account (MSA).

“That $550 will go toward the premium and if there is a balance it comes out of [the employee’s] paycheck. If there’s any remaining it goes into the MSA, correct?” he asked.

Grant wanted the council to be clear with employees this would be the case. He also noted employees need to be assured they will continue to receive VEBA benefits should they waive a medical plan being offered them by the city. However, to qualify for VEBA, employees must be currently covered under a spouse’s plan or have other medical coverage.

Other agenda items

• The city also approved the Idaho County Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan resolution. The resolution states the city will participate in the county mitigation plan and will follow risk assessment strategies. It also agrees to utilize the county plan in regards to disaster planning.

• Reports from the various city departments were heard, among these was a report from the water department on a loss of almost 900,000 gallons of water for the current month. This was attributed to chlorination flushing and a leak on East Street.

• Grant noted he applied for a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant totaling $121,175 to purchase air packs for the fire department.

The next meeting is planned for 7 p.m. Dec. 12 at Cottonwood Community Hall.


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