Plant operators threatened with license sanctions during recent Olympia meeting

ILWACO - Ilwaco is searching for a water plant operator to replace Roy Loftus who left several months ago. Two qualified operators, both from the Midwest, were interviewed, and Dan Countryman has agreed to come on board at the plant.

"Because they were from the Midwest," Ilwaco Mayor Ed Leonard said, "the Washington Department of Health required a complex temporary licensing procedure." He said Countryman "is acceptable to the Washington DOH."

Leonard and council member Shirley Burt traveled to Olympia last week to meet with DOH "to seek a mutual solution to the interminable certification procedure," the mayor said. "A lengthy process such as this robs small communities of valuable employees and works a hardship on those interested in employment with the city. There simply must be a better way."

At the Aug. 11 City Council meeting, Pam Hickey, who said she isn't an Ilwaco resident but uses Ilwaco water, asked the mayor and council why there had been violations of water quality in May and June. She said it was announced in the Chinook Observer that Ilwaco's water had been judged not acceptable 43 percent of the time during those months.

"Why is this happening?" Hickey asked. "This is the only water system on the Peninsula with violations. You are serving hospitals, infants, elderly people, PACE nutrition, a nursing home and schools. Why does this keep happening?"

Leonard said the problem was solved by upping the amount of chlorine in the water.

"We are very concerned" about our water quality, he said, explaining that the violations were because there was insufficient contact time with chlorine and there was a problem with the formula downloaded into the plant's computer.

"We're very aware of the problem," Leonard said. "Our big concern is that the one certified operator is stretched thin. If he has a day off, we're not producing water and must draw off our reservoirs. We also can intertie with Long Beach's system, but on holiday weekends, that's problematic."

"I would hope that in the future, you have people trained to take over and that you put steps in place to bring this along," Hickey said.

"The contact problem has been taken care of," Leonard said, "and there were no violations in July or August. When we go to Olympia we're going to ask why it takes five months to get somone from out of state licensed and why they won't accept an Illinois license. It's just crazy."

On Monday, Leonard said his trip to DOH in Olympia with Burt was "an unpleasant meeting. Mark Toy [of DOH] is threatening both of our plant operators, Randy LaVold and Paul Meyer, with sanctions against their licenses. From my perspective, they can find bureaucratic violations, but I don't think they're at a level that would justify sanctions. They're asking Randy to be at the plant watching Paul every minute of every hour. He can't do that." LaVold is the city's operations supervisor.

"Randy, Paul and the whole city crew are working their tails off at the plant," Leonard said. "This is one of the most difficult water plants to operate in the state. Mark Toy thinks nothing else is happening here, just water. DOH has said no more extensions on compliance. We can't complete the upgrades they want by Aug. 30."

He said new equipment was ordered last week and the providers are saying it will be shipped in two to three weeks, "well past the Aug. 30 deadline," he said. "DOH is talking about fines. What's the point. Does it really help us?"

A special City Council meeting was scheduled for Monday to discuss the situation. Most of the meeting will be an executive session, Leonard said.

Sewer plant work about to startA notice to proceed on the construction of a third cell at Ilwaco's wastewater plant has been received, Leonard said.

Construction by contractor Stellar J will continue until November followed by a three-month break to wait for delivery of equipment. Construction will resume in February.

Other BusinessIn other Ilwaco City Council business Aug. 11, Leonard announced that Debbie Funk has agreed to act as secretary of the city's planning commission. The commission still has an opening. Anyone interested in participating in the city's planning process may apply at city hall.

An ongoing discussion of the eastern terminus of Discovery Trail in Ilwaco prompted John Baker, who lives on Main Street where the trail is proposed to enter Ilwaco, to say if it is situated on the south side of Main, "it will be 15 feet from my breakfast table. There should be enough money to finish the trail so it's not at anyone's breakfast table." Baker said also that there's a parking problem on Main already. "It should go on Third Street," he said. "It would have less impact on residents."

Councilwoman Burt said it is possible the trail will end up on Third Street. "Years ago we tried to keep it away from residential areas," she said. "I hope this will happen. In the long term, Third is better."

Harry Dunlap, who also lives near the proposed end of the trail, told the council his wife got lost on the trail recently. "She was gone three hours," he said. "She ended up at Beards Hollow and had to get a ride home. There aren't any signs. I don't mind her getting lost but I don't like her riding home with strange guys."

Fred Marshall asked that the council begin reporting on critical issues during its meetings, such as unaccounted-for water. The council will discuss the matter.

Dana Robinson, who has been hired to head a new agency, Pacific Employer Resource Contact, introduced herself to the council. Robinson said the agency, a part of Pacific County's Economic Development Council, helps find qualified employees for county businesses.

According to a PERC brochure, the agency is "aware of the challenges of our current economy and employment issues. With these needs in mind, the PERC program can act as a human resource liaison. We can help draft advertisements, help determine proper advertising mediums, screen applicants and also help with post-employment issues that may arise." Robinson can be reached at 642-9330 or (drobinson@pacificedc.org).

The council then spent more than an hour discussing minor amendments and revisions to a new itinerant vendor ordinance for the city. A public hearing for the ordinance had been held during the July 28 council meeting but didn't include a date when it takes effect.

Dean Marsh, who operates a bait shop in the city during fishing seasons, said his customers were asking him what's going on. "What's the difference between me being there selling bait for 45 days, the Saturday Market one day a week and a fireworks stand for eight days?" he asked the council.

Leonard said the difference is that the Saturday Market is under the port's jurisdiction and the fireworks stand is non-profit.

"That's a lawyer's answer," he said, "and it won't satisfy in terms of regulating the city."

The council eventually approved the ordinance, to become effective Oct. 31.

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