The city of Rainier will spend nearly $19,000 on the Fox Creek restoration project to offset most of a $23,700 state fine for multiple violations at its sewage treatment plant between 2016 and 2018.
The City Council on Monday approved an $18,960 project to stabilize the banks of Fox Creek by removing and replacing intrusive plants along the creek, Mayor Jerry Cole said.
The bank stabilization project will be the latest in a decades-long effort to restore the creek, which flows off the hills behind the town, through the heart of downtown and into the Columbia River. A volunteer group, The Friends of Fox Creek, began efforts decades ago to clean up the creek and advocate for “daylighting” the creek by removing culverts.
“I’m just happy to see something good come out of a bad, unfortunate situation,” Cole said Thursday.
The city is working with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to find another project to offset the remaining $4,740 left of the civil penalties. It’s not certain if the city will be allowed to do so and may just have to pay off the balance of the penalty.
Jeff Bachman, an enforcement officer for DEQ, said the agency refers to these kinds of restoration projects as “supplemental environmental projects.” He said it is fairly common for a city to opt to undertake an environmentally beneficial project in lieu of paying a penalty.
“The idea isn’t that they get to reduce their out-of-pocket expense, but that they could at least have a say in how and where the money gets spent,” Bachman said.
A supplemental environmental project can offset up to 80 percent of the initial penalty; the remaining 20 percent is typically paid as a fine.
A Daily News story in May 2016 about raw sewage releases into the Columbia River and other problems sparked further state investigation into the operation of the sewage plant. Among the documented offenses: Operators fabricated monitoring reports and failed to report 28 out of 36 instances of untreated sewage overflowing into the Columbia River between December of 2016 and January of 2018.
Both the plant’s operators resigned during this time in January 2018 and were replaced by Sue Lawrence, whom the city had previously hired as a consultant to investigate operations at the plant.
“We had an employee that was lying with his documentation and his paperwork and not doing his job correctly and we got fined for it,” Cole said. “It was kind of like if you found out your significant other was cheating on you. ... You just feel so wronged.”