How much does stupid cost? Would you believe a minimum of $45 million dollars?
Let’s examine just one project – the City’s CSO (Combined Sewer Overflow) project – to see just how stupid spends, shall we?
As background, let’s remember that many, many years ago, the City of Port Angeles was put on notice by the Department of Ecology that it needed to do something to reduce the number and duration of overflows from its combined sewer system. What’s a combined sewer system? It’s a really, really stupid sewer system, one that puts essentially clean and safe water (rainfall) in the exact same pipes as raw sewage (from toilets, etc.). That means that, when it rains, a system that can generally handle all those toilets flushing is suddenly burdened with also dealing with all the rainwater entering the system – those exact same pipes. If it rains enough – red alert! red alert! – the system is overloaded and all the water in it that can’t be treated is dumped straight into the Strait. The result is a Combined Sewer Overflow, or CSO.
So again, the DOE told the City they had to do something to reduce CSO events. What did the City do in response? Nothing. For about a decade. They ignored the DOE’s order, and, under the leadership of Karen Rogers and her crew, did absolutely nothing to comply with the DOE’s order or to acknowledge the deadline for having the problem solved.
Eventually, a half-hearted, half-baked plan to address the issue was hatched. The City would acquire the giant, rusty tank on the ol’ Rayonier property, and in emergencies, all the city’s sewage would be stored there. (Left unanswered was how a five million gallon tank would help solve CSO events that, according to the City’s own data, sometimes run as high as 16 million gallons.)
This was the birth of the Turd Tank.
The Turd Tank - Scenic Icon of the Waterfront in Port Angeles!
In January 2009, City Council members Betsy Wharton and Dan DiGuilio, along with City staff members Glenn Cutler, Bill Bloor and Nathan West, and Orville Campbell, chairman of the Harbor-Works board (remember them?) all flew to Florida to negotiate buying the Rayonier Turd Tank. This was the start of the stupid, foolish and unwise spending on this non-solution solution. (It’s called a conference call, people. As in, on the phone. Trust me, people have been doing it for years, and it’s a LOT cheaper than flying to Florida.)
Quoting from a PDN article about this Florida junket, Glenn Cutler struck a reassuring tone: “Cutler said on Tuesday that the city still intends to acquire the tank at no cost.”
Which was true – of that trip, anyway. All those people spent all that time and money to go all that way…Only to return empty handed. No deal! All they succeed in doing was alerting Rayonier to the fact that they wanted that tank real, real bad.
Still, the City kept trying.
You may find yourself asking, “But wait…How did staff ram this through? Didn’t the City Council have to sign off on all this?” Yes, yes they did. When this crackpot idea was first conceived, the City initially talked about using Eminent Domain to seize the Rayonier property. It seems clear that Karen Rogers and her Council minion, Larry Williams, thought they could get in on the big money to be made redeveloping the site. Graft is where you find it, after all.
Then the real estate market crashed. Then the State started investigating Karen Rogers, who “decided” not to run for re-election. Larry Williams, term limited out, left the Council and immediately left town. Harbor-Works didn’t work, and they came and went, but only after wasting hundreds of thousands of public dollars.
Still, the Turd Tank would not die. Karen Rogers and Glenn Cutler’s dream became the City’s ongoing nightmare. And a new City Council had to be conned – oops! – I mean convinced to stay the course.
One way the Council was kept in line was by regular warnings of DOE-imposed doom if the City changed course. Never mind that these DOE warnings were paper tigers - most members of the City Council swore they heard the tigers roaring in Olympia.
Some good old-fashioned lies also worked. When Council member Mania started advocating the idea of disconnecting residential downspouts from the CSO system, Cutler and staff “warned” that disconnections would cost thousands of dollars per home. They also told the City Council that rain barrels (for diverting roof runoff) cost over $400 apiece. Never mind that these figures were wildly inflated fantasies – the majority of the Council bought them.
Instead, the majority of the Council voted to spend a million dollars to buy the Turd Tank, and committed to the whole CSO boondoggle to the tune of $45 million dollars. That’s $45 MILLION DOLLARS for ONE public works project in a town of 19,000 people. Think about that.
Needless to say, this approach has caused utility rates, taxes and fees to skyrocket. And this against a backdrop of a severe economic downturn, and in the context of a community where already something like a third of the City’s utility customers are delinquent on their accounts. In other words, a third of the population of Port Angeles couldn’t afford to pay their bills before this project, and now they’re being told they’ll have to pay more. Of what they can’t afford already. For a project that – oh, shit! – doesn’t even work.
Take THAT, Victoria!
Think about all that. $45 million dollars divided by 19,000 people equals a system that doesn’t work. It doesn’t separate rainwater from sewage. It doesn’t keep overflows from happening. A problem that could be easily and actually solved is instead getting an expensive and ineffective treatment. Solving the problem would mean little in financial outlays in the future; treating it means endless and increasing costs for system maintenance for all eternity.
And does anyone really, really believe that this huge Turd Tank boondoggle is going to come in on budget? The City admits to $45 million now. My guesstimate would be that it will come in closer to $50 million – plus those endless costs for maintenance.
Add to this the $19 million and counting the City is on the hook for to deal with the old dump threatening to fall into the Strait. And the $17 million and counting that the City is choosing to spend on a new waterfront – including a beach that will doubtlessly be quickly destroyed by rising tides. Just these three projects alone total up to a financial burden of a minimum of $81 million dollars. And the City is doing all this at the exact same time their overall debt burden (for everything else) is plateauing at an unsustainable level. Mind you, none of this is actually paying for basic and necessary things like infrastructure or maintenance.
So here we are, with real and actual debt and doom looming, and many of the people who have been responsible for all this are still right there on the front lines of foolishness. Dan DiGuilio. Cherie Kidd. Nathan West. Bill Bloor. All still going along to get along.
They’re whistling past the graveyard, people. None of this makes sense. None of this is sustainable. But all of it is, sadly, typical. When it comes to wasting money – YOUR MONEY – Port Angeles is indeed a world-class city.
So, how much does stupid cost? Call City Hall. They’ll be able to tell you.
Hey! I found all your tax money. We flushed it down the toilet!