The Cathlamet Town Council on Monday agreed to start in motion the process to stop providing water for Wahkiakum PUD's Puget Island Water System.
The water contract for two entities doesn't expire until 2037, but council members agreed with Mayor George Wehrfritz that it might be prudent for the agencies to separate. That would mean the PUD would have to find another source of water for the PI Water System.
Wehrfritz reported he and other town representatives have discussed the situation with PUD officials, who seem willing to consider finding a source of their own.
The water contract has chaffed town officials for some time. It has a complicated formula for calculating costs and how much the PUD will pay for town water.
The formula, Wehrfritz said, doesn't take into account interest paid on capital improvement projects. That means that since 1996, the PUD hasn't paid a share of $584,739 in interest. Based on the contract, the PUD's minimum contribution would have been $198,811, he said.
The water system needs attention on different fronts, town officials said. The intake at the Elochoman River needs to be rebuilt; more storage capacity is needed to handle potential growth, a potential expense close to $500,000, and the system needs a secondary source other than the Elochoman River.
Wehrfritz said the town had reached a fork in the road: To continue the status quo would mean the system is underfunded and financing any of the improvements would be very difficult, but if the PUD went on its own, the demand for new storage and another source would be eased, and expenses would be more manageable.
"So by going down the path of amicable separation, we can focus on our growth," Wehrfritz said. He proposed drafting of an ordinance to begin the separation to be considered at the council's September and October meetings.
Councilmember Wally Wright suggested it would be better to put effort into developing a second source on Cougar Creek east of Cathlamet, which was once the water system's source, or in artesian wells up the Elochoman Valley.
It would probably take 10 years to develop a second source, said Public Works Director Duncan Cruickshank, and Clerk/Treasurer Tina Schubert said the town may not have the borrowing capacity to finanace a new expensive project while it is paying for its new wastewater treatment plant.
"People will want to know how it will affect their rates," said Councilmember Dick Swart. "There needs to be a lot of education."
The board of commissioners of Wahkiakum PUD discussed the matter at their meeting yesterday (Wednesday); council discussions will continue in September.
In other business, the town expects Pacific Tech Construction will complete the remodeling of the old town hall in September. Councilmembers authorized the mayor to hire a painting contractor.
The council will have on display at this weekend's Cathlamet Downhill Corral Skateboard Festival sets of color schemes for the building, and people will be invited to vote on their favorite.
Consulting Engineer Ken Alexander reported that Pacific Crest Construction is nearing completion of the new wastewater treatment plant. Most equipment has been installed and is being tested.
The council passed a proclamation honoring the late Noreen Holten, who served as librarian for many years. Council members suggested the children's corner in the new library be dedicated to her.
The council also gave final approval to amendments to the sewer ordinance revising the way rates are set for apartments, hotels and other multi-tenant buildings. The changes will result in lower rates for multi-tenant buildings.