MATTAWA — The wastewater treatment facility for the City of Mattawa suffered a major fire Thursday morning, Jan. 9.
According to reports, City of Mattawa employee Kevin Webster went to the wastewater treatment facility around 5:30 a.m. on Thursday to reboot the computer that allows operators to remotely access the facility’s equipment. He had not been able to access the computer since approximately 10:30 p.m. the night before. When he arrived, the area around the facility was foggy. Stepping out of his vehicle, he smelled smoke and could see it coming from the building.
Grant County Fire District 8 received the call at 5:34 a.m. and responded. When they arrived on the scene, the exterior of the building was over 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Fire officials believe that the building had been ablaze for several hours before the fire was detected. The building was not equipped with fire alarms, smoke detectors, a sprinkler system or surge protector.
The blaze destroyed half of the 2,000-square-foot metal building and most of the equipment inside, according to David Patterson, Grant County Fire District 8 fire chief. It took fire crews an hour and a half to extinguish the blaze, with an additional hour to ensure the blaze wouldn’t reignite.
The equipment destroyed included the blower system that gives air to the good bacteria that live in the facility’s lagoon. The city brought in diesel compressors to do the work of the destroyed equipment.
“Within a couple of hours, we had it (the system) running again,” said Juan Ledezma, City of Mattawa Public Works director, on Saturday after a special meeting of the Mattawa City Council.
During the process of getting the wastewater system running again, a minor spill occurred. In conjunction with the Grant County Health Department, city crews were able to clean up the mess.
While the cause of the fire is currently unknown, Ledezma told the council on Saturday that the fire is believed to be electrical in nature.
On Wednesday evening at 6:51 p.m., a power outage affected the Mattawa and Desert Aire areas for a little over three hours. It affected 1,608 Grant County PUD customers. A second outage occurred in the same general area about 15 minutes after the power was restored, affecting 300 customers. Power to those customers was back on by 3 a.m. According to the Grant County PUD, neither power outage affected the wastewater treatment facility.
On Saturday, Jan. 11, the Mattawa City Council held a special meeting to discuss the next steps in getting the wastewater treatment facility back to normal.
The diesel-powered compressors the city brought in on Thursday to get the sewer system up and running cost the city $1,900 a day to rent. Fuel is a separate cost and must be added to the compressors every five hours.
During the meeting on Saturday, the council voted to rent two compressors from a company in Texas that specializes in helping cities with this kind of problem. It will cost the city $21,000 for delivery, set up and rental of the compressors for two months, to replace the diesel units running now. Instead of being diesel, the compressors from Texas will be hard-wired into the electrical grid. Overall, the compressors will cost the city $360 a day.
“The two months buys some time,” said Nancy Wetch, of Gray & Osborne Inc., the city’s engineering firm. “It is a long-term temporary solution.”
The two months will allow the city to take a breath and see if there are any more cost-efficient options available. The city has the option of purchasing the two compressors for $95,000. While the option to purchase the compressors outright was discussed, the rental option was decided upon for the time being. Half of the rental costs can be applied to the purchase of the compressors.
Wetch thinks that, if all goes well, in six to eight months the city could have the wastewater treatment facility running as it was before the fire.
She thinks that insurance may be a problem for the city, as insurance adjusters tend not to understand how wastewater treatment plants work.
While the city waits for the insurance money, there are a few options. Low-interest loans are available to the city with an emergency declaration. The city passed a preliminary emergency declaration at the meeting on Saturday and a formal resolution will be presented on Thursday, Jan. 16, during a regular council meeting.
“We are doing everything we can to stay in compliance with the Department of Ecology,” said Scott Hyndman, mayor of Mattawa. “I’m just happy it’s running. It could have been worse.”
Rachal Pinkerton may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.