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Arlington cuts projected utility rate increase

Jason Ewing, senior operator for the Arlington waste water treatment plant, double-checks its fan press efficiency. - Kirk Boxleitner
Jason Ewing, senior operator for the Arlington waste water treatment plant, double-checks its fan press efficiency.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

ARLINGTON — Arlington utility customers will pay less than what their monthly sewer rates were projected to be by January of 2013.

City Public Works Director Jim Kelly reported to the City Council on Jan. 14 that the $5 increase that had been slated for the start of the year could be reduced to a $2 increase instead.

“Our plan was to raise the rates over a three-year period,” Kelly said. “Rather than increasing it by $15 all at once in 2011, we opted to increase it $5 each year, with 2013 being the final year.”

Kelly cited a study by Kelly Isaacson Associates, which determined that a $2 increase would be adequate to cover the capital reserve and other needs.

“We’re not rolling in money,” Kelly said. “We’ve had to defer purchases and take furloughs. At the same time, measures such as cleaning out the storm drain lines have made us very energy efficient, and we’ve even received federal stimulus grant money to direct toward high energy efficiency. It’s a long-term investment that we continue to reap the rewards up every year.”

Kelly credited much of these savings to the built-in measures of the city’s waste water treatment plant, which was officially dedicated nearly two years ago, but which includes convenient high-tech features such as a monitoring station that allows senior treatment plant operators such as Sandy Boyd to check the running of the plant’s functions online.

“Sandy can look up how all our lift stations are doing on the Internet,” Kelly said as Boyd checked a series of wall-mounted flat-screens with a succession of rapid mouse-clicks. “We also have our own state-certified in-house testing lab, so that we don’t have to send our samples out to get those results, which means even more money saved.”

Steve Crites, who serves as the lab supervisor, explained that both the inflow and the outflow of the plant must meet certain state-mandated requirements, which requires him in turn to check samples several times a day to ensure that the plant’s sensors are accurate.

“What we’re sending out into the Stillaguamish is 200 percent cleaner than the water that’s already in the river,” Crites said.

“It’s 15 times cleaner than what the old plant was sending out,” Kelly said. “We also make sure our people are trained in-house on how to do service and maintenance on our equipment, again, so we’re not spending the money to call in outside service people.”

Another senior treatment plant operator, Jason Ewing, teleconferences with the equipment manufacturers when the plant’s fan press becomes less stringent in separating reclaimable water from sludge, so that the former can be purified and the latter can be turned into compost for the city.

“This plant’s operational and environmental benefits go hand in hand,” Kelly said. “The more environmentally friendly it is, the less electricity it uses, and the more money we save.”

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