Stimulus funds could assist Airway Heights with well

Airway Heights Council hears presentation on how COVID Relief Bill could help

AIRWAY HEIGHTS — Water contamination has been something dogging Airway Heights since the summer of 2017 when it was found that city wells had been contaminated by firefighting chemicals from Fairchild Air Force Base.

The mitigation process could get some additional help from the federal government in the form of slices of the pending $1.9 billion COVID Relief bill circulating through Congress, the Airway Heights City Council was told at its March 1 meeting.

City Manager Albert Tripp told council that the initial steps are being taken through members of Washington state’s Congressional delegation.

“We prepared a proposal last week to submit to Senator (Patty) Murray’s office for a replacement well which would replace the contaminated water source” Tripp said, adding the project that has a $22 million price tag is also being shopped through Sen. Maria Cantwell and Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers offices.

The framework for that particular act looks like it would include COVID relief funds for cities and counties throughout the country and allow money to address the negative economic impact brought on by COVID-19.

“You could also use those funds to continue to address COVID-19 related issues along with a few other types of authorized uses,” Tripp said. The projected amount Airway Heights could receive is based on population, similar to how Community Development Block Grants are administered and in this case would net between $1.7 and $2 million.

The measure has passed the House, but is now circulating in the Senate where, if approved, would be passed along to President Joe Biden for his signature. This means, Tripp said, there is time for some prodding of the Congressional element and let them know how those funds could be used, but also how the community is being impacted by well contamination.

Several meetings were held this past week with different state and federal representatives. “As I noted, all of the people that we spoke to about the project are very supportive of it,” Tripp said.

That discussion provided to be the perfect segue into an item brought up at the previous week’ study session, hiring a governmental affairs company in order to assist in scoping out other funds for the well project.

Airway Heights had engaged a firm in 2018 and received many times over the result in funding over the approximately $40,000 services contract. The efforts of this new mission would be solely to find new well money, Tripp said.

The idea was brought up about what might be considered a “band-aid” approach to the contamination issue, continued treatment of the water vs. a new well over the next 40 years.

“It’s cheaper to do the latter, to construct a new well versus treat in perpetuity,” Tripp said. With that said council cast a unanimous vote to hire the consultants.

Still somewhat on the subject of water — to be more exact sewer — council approved the deal first also mentioned last week to approve the City of Spokane to provide temporary sewer service along the 12300 block of W. McFarlane Road for a proposed business park.

The sewer line project is estimated to cost $1.8 million and Airway Heights could do it, but at the expense of projects already in the long-term vision. But having the development offers the possibility of 600 new jobs and the deal met with full approval of council, which saw new members Dave Malet and Art Bubb sworn in last week.

Also approved were the authorization of a request for proposals (RFP) to conduct a public safety needs assessment study. Finally, Tripp was granted the authority to oversee any future efforts to sell city property at Sekani Park. This takes it out of the hands of council and gives Tripp latitude in a final decision. The property has twice been on the market, both times having the transaction fall through.

Paul Delaney is a retired former Free Press Publishing reporter and can be reached at [email protected].


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