The towns of Concrete and Hamilton have been awarded funding from the state Department of Commerce for projects related to household water and wastewater treatment.
The funding comes from the Community Development Block Grant program that helps rural and low income communities.
Concrete was awarded $550,000 to go toward an about $1.7 million project to replace an outdated wooden reservoir for the town water supply with a new, larger reservoir built of concrete.
Mayor Jason Miller said the current reservoir is one of three in the town, and as the oldest is the only one made of wood.
The project has received $1.1 million in federal funding and will use about $21,000 in local ratepayer dollars, Town Clerk Andrea Fichter said.
For Hamilton, $24,000 was awarded to support a study of wastewater treatment options to accommodate future development.
The town is working with land conservancy Forterra to build a combined housing and commercial development outside of the floodplain.
Hamilton Mayor Joan Cromley said that development will require wastewater treatment infrastructure, rather than be on septic systems as the town is now.
That grant — combined with about $15,000 from Forterra — will be used to hire an engineer to study types of wastewater treatment facilities and how large a facility may be needed.
Cromley said the town does not want to build a system that could have capacity problems or pollution issues, such as Concrete’s 10-year-old wastewater treatment plant.
Concrete town officials have said they were rushed by the state into building a wastewater treatment plant in 2008 to replace a lagoon system where wastewater was funneled into a large pit and the waste was allowed to decompose over time.
The resulting wastewater treatment plant was costly and poorly designed, creating a rash of problems.
“It has been an albatross and a financial millstone around our necks ever since it was built because the design was flawed from the get-go ... and because of the loans we were forced to take out to build it in the first place,” Miller said.
Equipment failures in recent years have led the town to send wastewater into the lagoon instead of completing the treatment plant process. That is a permit violation according to the state Department of Ecology and has resulted in recent fines.
Ecology fined the town $12,800 in June 2018 for that type of violation. After the town appealed, an agreement was reached that cut the fine in half unless the town had any other violations before April 2022.
Such a violation occurred in July, and Ecology in September reissued the second half of the fine. According to Ecology, the town released about 50,000 gallons of wastewater into the lagoon July 26-28.
Miller said due to a pump malfunction, the wastewater had to go somewhere, and officials felt it was better to let it go into the lagoon rather than out of the treatment facility and likely into the nearby Baker River.
“That’s what has been such a frustration for us, is Ecology doesn’t seem to want to have a conversation about common sense ... about why we did what we did,” Miller said. “We chose the lesser of the two evils and that is putting it into the lagoon, which at least slows down the process greatly and does provide some form of filtration. It’s better than flowing over the ground and into the river.”
Ecology spokesman Larry Altose said the state agency appreciates the town’s efforts, but that using the lagoon also poses a risk to the Baker River.
“The former lagoon, which is not part of the treatment system, is located near the Baker River, about 200 feet away,” Altose said. “It drains into glacial till, cobble, gravel, sand and silt, which can allow water to percolate through, toward the river.”
Fichter said the two-part fine is being paid out of the town’s sewer fund.