Council asks for review of costs

By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

Frustration with the ever-increasing cost of improvements to Enumclaw's sewage treatment plant spilled over last week, as members of the City Council sat down with staff and the city's hired consultants.

The project that was once pegged at $16 million has climbed by nearly $10 million over the past few years, and some are wondering if the final price tag might jump as high as $30 million.

That's bad news for city ratepayers, who will pick up the tab. The city has secured about $19 million in low-interest loans from the state and has about $1 million in cash reserves. The rest, it is figured, will have to come from additional loans.

Everything, except the money pulled from reserves, will be paid through higher monthly utility bills.

Near the end of last week's session, which pushed three hours in length, council members agreed they might like to see an independent party examine the project's financial picture. Public Works Director Chris Searcy had asked for council direction, and was told to determine how much an independent study would cost.

He agreed to provide council with those figures.

He cautioned, however, that additional opinions might muddy the waters. "You're going to have as many opinions as you have engineers," he said. Later in the meeting, he reiterated, "You're always going to get a different opinion. It's very easy to be a sideline quarterback."

Several council members appeared stunned at the ballooning costs of the project, which is necessary if Enumclaw is to get out from under its current moratorium on utility hookups. Because the city discharges into the White River, a salmon-bearing waterway, the state is highly interested in what comes out of the city treatment plant. Several years ago, it was determined the city's effluent wasn't up to standard and the moratorium was imposed.

It will remain in effect until the city improves the treatment plant.

For a variety of reasons, that has become an increasingly expensive proposal.

The cost of some materials, it was explained, have increased by nearly 50 percent during the past year. And, as the project drags on, those costs aren't getting any less expensive.

Searcy maintained the city's consultants have made an effort to keep costs low. "They've made a pretty good effort to do that," he said, while allowing that options still exist to reduce the total project cost.

Last week's meeting didn't get into rate increases, but that talk will surely come.

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