by Pia K. Hansen and Cara Gardner

Treatment Plant Tragedy -- SPOKANE -- There was a somber feel at City Council Chambers Tuesday morning when Mayor Jim West, Fire Chief Bobby Williams and Director of Public Works and Utilities Roger Flint faced the press and about 50 city staffers, trying to explain what had happened at the city's wastewater treatment plant.

On Monday afternoon, the roof on one of the plant's tanks caved in, injuring three wastewater treatment plant workers and apparently killing one. Mike Cmos Jr., a wastewater treatment plant mechanic who had worked for the city for 24 years, was missing after the accident and had not been found Tuesday afternoon. He was on top of the tank, investigating with plant operator Larry Michaels, maintenance worker Dan Evans and plant supervisor Tim Pelton, when the accident happened.

After a moment of silence and thorough thanks to emergency crews and city staff on the scene Monday afternoon and most of the night, a choked-up West said the city is doing everything possible to make sure there is no danger to the people in the neighborhood around the plant located on the Aubrey L. White Parkway.

Some of the sludge from the tank spilled into the Spokane River.

"We are taking samples of the river at the Bowl and Pitcher and at the T.J. Meenach Bridge. It takes 24 hours to analyze these," said Flint. "At this point, we believe it was a fairly small amount that ran into the river."

Williams reiterated that there was no explosion at the plant, saying the loud noise people heard probably was the sound of the roof cracking.

"This was a unique incident," said Williams, "we have no reason to believe that this will happen again."

The city is currently updating the plant, but it doesn't look like the age of the facility was a factor in the accident.

"We don't know yet," said Flint. "Doing an upgrade of the facility at the same time as you are running it is difficult, but the tank was not part of the construction that's going on."

The plant is receiving planned upgrades at a cost of more than $100 million, among other things to meet water-quality standards.

Williams estimated that about 10 percent of a total of 2 million gallons of sewage in the tank had spilled out.

"Of that, an even smaller amount made it into the river," he said. Flint explained that the plant overflows about twice a year, during severe storms, and that the overflow at those times probably is more than what went into the river during this accident.

"For the next three days, people should not be in the river," said Williams. "At this point there is no specific risk to the public and there isn't anything folks need to do. The plant is fully functioning even without the tank." -- Pia K. Hansen

In the Balloonies -- SPOKANE -- Ryan Oelrich is building a home out of balloons. You can watch him construct it this Saturday, May 15, in River Park Square. Oelrich, a 22-year-old balloon artist and entertainer, plans to live in the balloon house for 17 days in order to set a Guinness Book of World Record for... you guessed it, "Longest Time Spent Living in a Balloon House."

His home is complete with balloon tables and chairs, but Oelrich is allowed to leave for 45 minutes each day, according to Guinness rules. Oelrich will move into his balloon house next Wednesday, May 19, and remain there until the house deflates.

While inside, Oelrich plans to perform magic tricks and make balloon animals for onlookers.

All the silliness has a purpose: Oelrich says he hopes to raise enough money to pay for a Habitat for Humanity home for a family in need.

Water Workshop -- SANDPOINT, Idaho -- The Bonner Soil and Water Conservation District (BSWCD) will hold a workshop to educate the public about conservation easements on Tuesday, May 18.

The Inland Northwest Land Trust, Clark Fork Pend Oreille Conservancy and the Nature Conservancy of Idaho will all give short presentations at the workshop regarding the opportunities of these easements.

In addition, the Natural Resource Conservation Service will present its Wetland Reserve Program and the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, along with the Idaho Department of Lands, will talk about the Forest Legacy Program. After the presentations, a panel of experts will answer questions.

The BSWCD encourages private landowners with questions regarding conservation easements to attend.

The workshop is on Tuesday, May 18 at 7 pm on the main floor of the Federal Building, 1500 Highway 2.

Publication date: 05/13/04

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