Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Cost of Stupid

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.
Worried yet?
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!


  1. Wow.

    This is depressing as hell, but thanks for laying it all out for us.

  2. Hey CK, VERY well stated.

    I Googled " Disconnect roof downspout" and came across a bunch of pamphlets put out by cities all over the country. They say the average cost is about $20 a shot.

    So, how many house in Port Angeles? I heard around 7,500. $20 times that is $150,000. Lets figure each house has 4 downspouts, one on each corner. We're up to $600,000. Done.

    Of course, every house and business in Port Angeles doesn't have their downspouts hooked up to the sewage pipes. Say half do.

    $300,000, and no more sewage overflows.

    1. Yes, but there's a whole lot less wiggle room for skimming and scamming funds off of that smaller figure. Don't be naïve. We need these big projects for the big kickbacks they provide to the chosen and connected few.

    2. Bingo!

      Exactly right. This is why all these consultants are hired, etc. Spread the money as far as possible.

      After all, it isn't THEIR money.

  3. And, it is pouring rain right now, with a forecast of lots more to come. How many millions of gallons of more crap is being blown out into the harbor, right now?

    All we got for the $50 million ( and counting) is a pipe that dumps the overflows further out into the harbor. You know, "Out of sight, out of mind"?

    1. Don't forget: That same rain could take out the bluff at the old landfill. If, well, when that happens, then we'll have millions of gallons of raw sewage AND tons of garbage in the strait.

      But don't worry. Cherie Kidd will doubtlessly have a cliché filled with sunshine to take our minds off of our woes.

    2. The sewage is out of sight (sort of), the City Council are out of their minds, and the residents of PA are out of money to pay for it all. Not that it matters because the STUPID CITY COUNCIL ARE OUT OF THEIR MINDS. How much more can people pay???

  4. I know some people will think this is old news, but it's not. We're paying for this stupidity right now, and we're on the hook for years (if not decades) more. That's why this is important. That's why this is very much a timely issue.

    The hardest thing to get a politician to say is "I was wrong." I'm under no illusion that we'll ever get Cherie Kidd or Dan DiGuilio to admit this was a bungle from the start, but they're only two of five. I know Sissi has been pretty solid on voting NO on this stupid project. If enough people put enough pressure on just three more council members, this could all be stopped and a sensible, effective solution put in place instead.

    Yeah, yeah, I know. This IS still Port Angeles. Abandon all hope ye who enter here...

  5. Look at it this way: If we accept that Port Angeles is carrying so much debt, let's say $150,000,000, and we divide that by the 19,000 people who live here...How many of them think that the quality of life here justifies their share of that debt? In other words, is it worth it? When I think about it in those terms...It's hard to justify staying here, especially when I think about how this will affect my kids. How do I explain to them that their gift now is to attend subpar schools until they're old enough to take on their share of the sewage debt load? This town makes it hard to love it. Really hard.

  6. You know...You look at bullshit like all of this...and then you think back to the last election when three out of four city council candidates ran unopposed...and it's pretty fucking disheartening.

    1. Agree! I would have loved to have been able to vote for people who were against this project, but with no choices in three of the races, I was left extremely frustrated. (Like a LOT of voters were.) The apathy here in Port Angeles is deep, and the politics are ugly. Look how they smeared Mania. I'm not surprised no one good wanted to run, just disappointed.

    2. No one wants to run because the politics of personal destruction here are so ingrained. Max tried to speak up for the people, and they did everything they could to destroy him, and his wife. No one wants to be subject to that kind of daily bullshit. The smears in the PDN, the lies on blogs, etc. So we get more of the same old same old crowd, running things further into the ditch.

      This is a very poisonous place, both the environment and many of the people. The shit in the harbor seems appropriate because to often this place is a cesspool.

  7. By the way, apologies for the length of this posting. I kept it as short as I could, and actually left out a lot of details. But obviously it's a longer piece anyway. Hopefully the info and context are useful.

    1. Hey CK, I thought you did a GREAT job making a complex issue understandable. Kudos.

      So many parts are so important. Like, as Olsen (the City's Finance guy) said , this project put the City at it's financial limits. For what? To try to solve a problem, which it doesn't, which could have been done sooner, cheaper faster if it hadn't been for the crazy ego games of City Staff?

      That this project has put RESIDENTS at their financial limits, and (as the then Mayor Cherie Kidd pointed out) they can't pay their utility bills. Again, for what?

      This list is long.

      More in a bit. (Cooking dinner!)

    2. Anon 4:18 says some may consider this topic "Old News". Look at the headlines, and look at your latest monthly bill to see it is a current story.

      Tomorrow or the next day, we will see yet another story in the PDN describing how many millions of gallons of crap were dumped out into the harbor. After how many years, now?

      After how many studies? How many meetings? How many articles?

      How many millions spent?

      As the City Financial Officer has stated, and the former Mayor too, this crazy project has had a massive negative impact on the City and it's residents. The City is at it's "financial limits"?! A large percentage of the city's residents can't afford their utility bills, because of this un-needed project?! Hello?!?!

      So, what is happening? All the City Staff that "conned" the City Council all along are still employed. Except for Glenn Cutler, who is drawing a nice pension from the City for his part.

      Mike Puntenney, Culter's Mini- Me, is still there, pushing the same project. All the rest of the Staff are still there, still promoting this crazy project. Everyone is still getting paid, with absolutely NO penalties for all the lies and deceptions they wrought upon the City Council, and general public.

      Even the more recent Staff, including the City Manager and the new Public Works Director are in lock step, defending every lie.

      Yes, in some regards, this is "Old News". A topic spanning 10 years and more. And, every month, every resident in Port Angeles will be paying for it in real dollars, for a couple decades to come.

      What message do we send to City Staff when we let them do this kind of thing to us? When we literally sit back, and do nothing but pay the bill.

    3. Don't forget that it all comes down to the City Council. They have been approving this all along, with only a couple of voices raised in question or objection. THAT is the real problem: A compliant, easily manipulated Council, willing to rubber-stamp whatever crackpot idea staff puts forward.

      Yes, there are/have been some truly evil people on staff (Cutler, Puntenney, etc.) pushing this, but they couldn't do a thing without Council approval. Any wrath people have should be directed at the City Council - six shits and a miss.

    4. Yes. This is true, to a point. But, as we see even today, City Staff are the originators of the information everyone relies upon for their understanding of the issues. Very few people actually fact check what City Staff states. Including the reporters at the PDN. "Truth" of a situation becomes what City Staff says it is.

      So, decisions are only as good as the information they are based upon.

      What do you do when the City Staff are intentionally manipulating the information, so that their pre-determined goals get carried out?

      Fire City Staff? Good luck with that.

      If you look back at the meetings concerning the projects that has gotten Port Angeles into the financial hole it finds itself now in, you will find staff reports skewing the way a given proposal is considered by Council, and the public.

      Staff have told me they know the Council members are idiots, and they treating them accordingly.

      And here we are.

    5. You're right --- the city council is ultimately to blame. But there's a slightly different twist on this, which circles back to the initial topic on this forum: certain past city councils and mayors who left a legacy of bad managers whose staffing decisions still present formidable obstacles today. If people had been able to see-through what Karen Rogers and Larry Williams and Rich Headrick and similar others were all about during the early 2000's, they might have been able to prevent people like Glenn Cutler and his minions from obtaining so much power and influence. But those councils made sure that only their chosen insiders and puppets would rise to positions of power in the city. The city managers - Madsen and Myers - knew that their roles were to cater to that agenda, and acted accordingly.
      The present council has inherited a lot of garbage (literally and figuratively) left behind by the actions of the worst councils ever. And to fully clean it up and move forward they need, among other things, to hire a strong city manager who is willing to clean house.

    6. Well said! You are right about the past staffing decisions, and how we are living the results today.

  8. This huge spill happens (AGAIN), and there's an article about it in the PDN (AGAIN) today, and as you've pointed out here, this is a big deal, but the only person who has commented on it on the PDN's website is...Peter Numbskull Ripley. And THAT is the sad state of affairs in Port Angeles. No one cares, no one speaks up, except the village idiot. Pathetic.

    1. Peter always has something to say. Unfortunately for him, it's always the same thing: Nothing.

      Yet he was one of our "choices" last election. Oh, happy day!

    2. Last year when he was running (again) for City Council, Peter kept talking about wanting to build an island of the shoreline and put a fundraising carnival on it. I say we just let these CSO overflows continue until there's enough shit in our harbor to form Peter's island. Then the only question will be do we name it after him, or after Cutler?

  9. Once again in the article in the PDN today: "Two outfalls discharge near the newly completed downtown waterfront esplanade."

    The city chose to spend millions of our tax dollars to "improve" and "beautify" the waterfront, but left the giant sewage discharges right alongside the new "downtown jewel"? Good thinking there, people! This'll give tourists a one-stop chance to see what Port Angeles is all about: Trashing the environment and wasting money on unneCESSary public works projects.

  10. Give credit to the city for doing what they do best - turning green tax dollars into brown sludge.

  11. Finally! A local blog with a clear agenda and that is free from being a free-for-all nut fest!

    Is what you write objective reporting? Hell, no! But it's factual and honest and gets to the truth of how totally backasswards screwed up things are in Port Angeles.

    Keep it up! Thank you!

    1. There's no real news in the PDN, we all know that. And the other PA blog quickly degenerated into a nasty gossip column, full of obvious lies, hateful (and pointless) rants, and general whackedoutness. This will be a little more moderated, and a lot more informative.

  12. It's amazing how the city really does seem to think that all they have to do when this happens - and it does happen regularly - is to slap a NO WADING sighn up for a week or two on the shoreline and then call it good. Last year we had one of these right before the Crab Fest, which should have been called the Crap Fest. They seem to have no interest in fixing the problem, or understanding that there really is a problem. Signs up, tank on the beach. Done!

    No, morons, NOT done. Not even close.

    1. Well, the City IS working on stopping the crap from coming out in those outfalls, and is redirecting all that crap over to that big storage tank on the former Rayonier mill property, where it'll then be run out to the new pipes further out in the harbor.

      Will it work?Yes, to some unknown extent, and assuming everything works as planned. That's why the City says it will "reduce" the overflows.

      This is insane, because it relies on lots of pipes, pumps, valves, relays and other stuff to move everything around. All so that the City doesn't take the approach of keeping the rain OUT of the system. What happens if there is a power outage during a big storm event? Ya think THAT could happen? So, have they built in a back up generator for the whole system? How much did that cost?

      And, we know how absolutely reliable back up generators worked at Fukishima!

      And HOW did City Staff manipulate the City Council away from considering keeping the water out of the system? City Staff said the general public cannot be trusted. That the residents can not be trusted to disconnect downspouts. This is in print.

      And, that most of the water was coming into the system from old broken underground pipes. This lie convinced many of the Council members.

      Council members were insulted and bullied by Cutler to "go along" with the plan. I was told first hand about this by more than one council member.

      Would be interesting to look into who made out on this. Obviously, somebody did.

  13. Disinterest and apathy are because the phrase "you can't fight city hall" has been drummed into every one, and anyone who has tried to voice an opinion/make their voice heard. How many times can one person go to a city council meeting, to special meetings to inform (the peons), and come up against shady backroom deals, vicious queen bees (and their drones) and the insanity that follows? People aren't disengaged, they've been beaten down, and are discouraged. Or worse, fearful of more retaliation by the crazies who have run this town for years and years.

    1. "Or worse, fearful of more retaliation by the crazies who have run this town for years and years. "

      The obvious fear of competition and having to interact with the modern world is a defining characteristic of Port Angeles, especially among the business and political communities. (Which are 90% one and the same, of course.) This leads them to the bullying and retaliation you speak of, and, in the long run, cuts their own throats in terms of an ever-diminishing economy.

      Still, they don't seem to know how to do ANYTHING else, so the destructive and self-destructive behavior continues.

  14. What if a "We Won't Pay For This" effort was undertaken? If a couple hundred pissed off Port Angeles residents deducted all the "CSO" charges from their bills, and made it a political statement demanding accountability by outside investigators? The money would be put in an account until investigations concluded the City made the right choice with this approach? Or force a couple hundred court cases? Or?

    1. I would love to see how the City Council dealt with that. They already have to deal every month with a third of their customers who simply can't afford to pay. If another 10%, say, simply refused to pay all the CSO charges like you suggest, it might put the City in a real bind in terms of cash-flow, bond ratings, etc.

  15. Am I the only one who can't wait for the next topic? So many choices. The Lincoln Park trees. The Silt Plant at the Elwha River. The Kalakala? :)

    1. Lincoln Park? Gee...You mean a "project" that involves the Port AND the City might have something wrong with it? Surely you're not suggesting that...

    2. Yes, move along now. Nothing to see here. It is only the biggest project in the City's history. It is one of the only to directly impact every bill paying resident in Port Angeles. The rest of these topics show the corruption in every day Port Angeles, but few others demand every resident pony up, every month.

      So, move along. Next?

  16. Or, the Nippon Biomess Debacle.

    1. But they took public comment before ignoring it. They listened to Nippon's lies before believing them. They backdated Nippon's permit before...I mean, AFTER they started work on the Biomess project. Again, surely you're not suggesting that there was anything amiss with the way this was ram-rodded thr...the way this was handled?

      Next you'll be saying the sprint boat track had permit problems. You people are so cynical!

  17. It's not really subject-related or heavy, but, I just gotta say...I LOVE your photo captions! They're so true, and so funny. Eat yer heart out PDN!

  18. I saw somebody posted a comment on the PDN site essentially saying that the sewage overflows are the result of the City's infrastructure being old. Too bad they bought into the City's lies.

    As anyone can see by looking at the flow data at the sewage treatment plant the City puts out, virtually the same amount goes in on a average day, winter or summer. This shows the City's sewage infrastructure is actually amazingly tight, and in good shape. If it were broken up underground, high ground water in the winter months would increase the flows to the treatment plant.

    But, other than the rain events, the flows are pretty flat across the graphs, all year long.

    Proving once again the City staff is either incredibly stupid, or intentionally lying. Or, both?

  19. MY OH MY, this site is getting me ever so depressed.

    I will make no comment other than I am just glad I am not a property owner in P.A.
    Added this link to my own site. (under environment) Much more on Politics etc.

    Great article and comments.