Pin It

Tomorrow, Tomorrow 

Bad budgets may mean a delay in cleaning up the Spokane River.

click to enlarge The Spokane River - GLEN LANDBERG
  • Glen Landberg
  • The Spokane River

A quip from Gov. Christine Gregoire about suspending environmental cleanup of the Spokane River until the economy improves has created ripples of confusion.

“She asked us how would we feel about a moratorium on rule-making, that’s what her words were. I said sign us up,” says City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, who met with the governor two weeks ago as part of a delegation of city and county officials from throughout the state.

Upgrading wastewater treatment processes to remove almost all of the phosphorus that reaches the river is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade.

It’s not exactly clear what Gregoire meant by her remark, but a “moratorium on rule-making” is generally understood to mean that if an agency such as the Department of Ecology doesn’t create specific rules for a cleanup plan, the plan is not enforced.

A moratorium “is an idea that’s been batted around. I don’t know where it’s at. It is one strategy among many to help municipalities and businesses get through these difficult times,” says Karina Shagren, a former Spokane television reporter who is one of the information officers in the governor’s office.

The timing of Gregoire’s remark is striking.

The latest version of the Spokane River cleanup plan is on the verge of implementation after years of being staggered by back-room fist-fighting and leg-wrestling among the array of industrial and government polluters in two states.

Permits to regulate how much phosphorus can be dumped into the river are out for public review. But this latest plan, known as a TMDL for total maximum daily load, has also been taken to federal court by two municipal wastewater dischargers in Idaho, who claim they have to meet more stringent cleanup standards than dischargers in Washington.

Also — and this appears to have been kept on the down-low — the disgruntled Idaho dischargers (the city of Post Falls and the Hayden Area Regional Sewer Board were first to sue and Coeur d’Alene has since joined) have a meeting this week at the regional headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency in Seattle about settling the lawsuit.

The EPA issues discharge permits in Idaho, while the state Department of Ecology does the same in Washington.

Two local environmental watchdog groups — Spokane Riverkeeper and the Lands Council — learned about the potential settlement talks last week and joined the lawsuit (on EPA’s side) “in order to get a seat at the table,” Riverkeeper attorney Rick Eichstaedt says.

Eichstaedt told the nonprofit Center for Justice last week that “the most important part of why we’re intervening is that sometimes in these kind of cases the resolution is not in the courtroom. It’s in the smoky back room, and the smoky back room has materialized.”

Given the expense facing the city amid state and local budget cutbacks, McLaughlin says, “We basically said to [Gregoire] the agencies need to be aware of how this is affecting cities.

“We are not saying we want a polluted river, but can we pause? Can we slow down?”

  • Pin It

Speaking of...

  • Recall and Response
  • Recall and Response

    The attempt to remove Spokane Mayor David Condon from office may be a long shot, but he isn't taking any chances
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • Train Tax?
  • Train Tax?

    Spokane voters will consider fines on oil and coal trains on November's ballot
    • Jul 28, 2016
  • Cause For Alarm
  • Cause For Alarm

    Residents of a remote part of Stevens County say something is making them sick, but no one is sure exactly what it is
    • Jun 30, 2016
  • More »

Latest in News

  • OK, Hold Your Nose
  • OK, Hold Your Nose

    Everything you need to know before Election Day
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • Base of Support
  • Base of Support

    Polling local leaders and opinion-makers about presidential politics
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • The Messenger
  • The Messenger

    Local leaders weigh in on how Donald Trump's campaign has impacted racism in America
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • More »

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Today | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat
Spokane Social Sketch

Spokane Social Sketch @ Boots Bakery & Lounge

Last Sunday of every month, 2-5 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Kevin Taylor

Most Commented On

  • To Kill the Black Snake

    Historic all-tribes protest at Standing Rock is meant to stop the destruction of the earth for all
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • Murrow's Nightmare

    Debate moderators need to be much more than an onstage prop to make our democracy work
    • Sep 15, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

election 2016

trail mix


green zone


Readers also liked…

  • Hopeless for Heroin
  • Hopeless for Heroin

    As heroin deaths continue to rise in Washington state, what can a parent do to save a child from the depths of addiction?
    • Jul 29, 2015
  • Signs of the Times
  • Signs of the Times

    Can Spokane really curb the demand side of the sex trade?
    • Apr 15, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation