Both sides are claiming victory, with radically different interpretations,over a recent decision by the Pollution Control Hearings Board. The Sierra Cluband Center for Environmental Law & Policy had objected to the WashingtonState Department of Ecology’s decision granting a permit to Spokane County’s newwastewater treatment plant, despite the plant dumping new polychlorinatedbiphenyls (PCBs) into the river. PCBs are toxins that can build up in largerfish, making them potentially dangerous to eat.
“The plant contributes PCBs to the most PCB-polluted river in the state ofWashington,” says John Osborn, co-chair of the Sierra Club’s Upper ColumbiaRiver Group.
The hearing board found that “portions” of the permit were invalid, and sentthe permit back to Ecology to revise several sections before reissuing it.
The board ruled the permit for the plan does “NOT violateanti-degradation regulations and the facility may continue to operate anddischarge into the Spokane River,” the Spokane County press release read.
“Spokane County ordered to shut down new $170 million Sewage Treatment Plant”the Sierra Club press release began.
The two diverging analyses show just how radically different Spokane Countyand the Sierra Club view the very important ruling.
Kevin Cooke, utilities director for Spokane County, says that, whilerevisions of the permit are required, “our state-of-the-art plant, which is oneof the best in the nation, if not in the world, will continue to operate” andthat the County will work closely with Ecology.
But Osborn says “the county took a $170 million gamble with the public moneyto build a plant with a pipe to the river. We think they lost.” The changes Ecology has to maketo the permit, Osborn says, are anything but simple.He says thecounty may have to spread some of the effluent at a wetland at Saltese Flatsinstead of dumping it directly into the river.
“If they think they can minimize this or tweak the conditions they arewrong,” he says. “Right now, they are discharging in violation of the law. Theyshould not be discharging.“
Ecology, however, believes the decision does not put the county out ofcompliance with the Clean Water Act. “We want to emphasize that we feel thatkeeping the plant in operation is really better for the river,” says BrookBeeler, communication manager for Ecology's Eastern Region. “It’s a much betterfacility than if it were re-routed through the old system.“
Osborn says the group may be back in front of the Pollution Control HearingsBoard to clarify the ruling. Either party has 30 days to appeal thedecision. Even if Spokane County can continue operating its plant as-is, the legaltroubles aren’t over. The Sierra Club has a federal case in the works as well.
Read the whole ruling and decide for yourself. The order is on page 27.