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Grant County Landfill and Ephrata sewer getting major upgrades this year

by SAM FLETCHER
Staff Writer | January 15, 2021 1:00 AM

The recent Ephrata City Council decision for additional rate increases of disposal and sewage will provide major upgrades in both systems.

The council on Jan. 6 approved added rates on top of a 2.1% increase on city services across the board, the normal annual adjustment in accordance with the Consumer Price Index.

On top of the CPI, sewage fees will increase by $1 a year per account for the next five years. This equals a 5% increase for 2021, according to the City Council agenda.

“It’s to help us maintain and stay up with the cost of maintenance and operations and supplies,” Ephrata Finance Director Leslie Trachsler said. “Our regular cost of doing business.”

The added sewage fees cover a $7 million loan, Ephrata Public Works Director Bill Sangster said. Of that, $4.5 million will cover upgrades to the plant and the other $2.5 is for upgrades to the sewer mainline and delivery system.

These upgrades will include new UV lights, which disinfect the water, oxidation ditch repair, electrical upgrades and other forms of maintenance, which will make the plant more efficient, Sangster said.

“My guys do a great job, and it looks like a brand new building,” he said. “But it is 20 years old now.”

The increased disposal fees are a direct pass-through of higher fees at the county dump, Sangster said.

The fee to dump garbage went from $28.80 per ton to $49.33 per ton. This is because the county has not raised the rates in more than 10 years, Grant County Public Works Director Sam Castro said, so they have some catching up to do.

Because the county bills per ton, the curbside increase will depend on the individual container, Trachsler said. Her report to the council remarked a 6% to 10% increase, depending on the size of the container and how often it is picked up.

Comparing this price to counties across Washington, it remains one of the lowest, Castro said.

The landfill is sectioned into four cells, or four phases of construction, Castro said. Cells one and two are filling fast, and will be perhaps at maximum capacity in a matter of weeks.

Construction on cell three was $2.2 million and is near completion, he said. It should be operational within a month. Because it was such a dire need, the money came out of the day to day landfill budget.

Castro wished there had been a plan in place beforehand, so this could have been avoided.

“We have paid for 2.2 million dollars, and now we have to collect it through fees,” he said. “That’s not how you do business. You collect it, and have it in place, and then you build it.”

This deficit will ripple into the future, too. Because the fees had to be raised this year, the Board of Commissioners voted against raising even more fees for phase four at this time, Castro said. Thus, this problem could repeat all over again down the road.

Because these rates are being passed to cover a loan to the county, an open house and public meetings were not an option for input as they normally would be with special increases, Sangster said.

“Anytime you raise anything people are upset,” he said. “It’s just what it is.”

The city tries to do these changes incrementally by the year to avoid major increases after a long amount of time, he said. For the sanitation and disposal rates, it was a matter of time before it needed to be done.

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Construction on phase three of the Grant County Landfill. Photo courtesy of Public Works Director Sam Castro.

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Construction on phase three of the Grant County Landfill. Photo courtesy of Public Works Director Sam Castro.