Suit details city damage claims

At the gate of the wastewater plant in May of 2016.

Albany is asserting damage claims totaling some $84 million in the lawsuit it has filed over problems at the city's wastewater treatment plant and the nearby constructed wetlands, the Talking Water Gardens.

Kerry Shepherd, the city's attorney in the case, sent me and others a copy of the complaint once it was filed in Linn County Circuit Court. The respondent in the civil case is CH2M Hill, the engineering company that designed the city's expanded treatment plant, completed in 2009, and the Water Gardens, dedicated in 2012.

The essence of the city's complaint is that the engineers recommended a waste-handling system that hasn't worked and caused the city great expense to haul away "biosolids." It also faults the engineers for the way they designed the wetlands, which leak and have not cooled the wastewater as much as intended.

The damages alleged by the city in connection with the treatment plant go like this: $13 million to haul away biosolids sludge over 20 years; $4.3 million that the city paid for the "Cannibal" solid-waste handling system; $4 million for additional engineering to find a remedy; $26.7 million to replace Cannibal with another treatment system; and $3.2 million to replace dewatering equipment.

Cannibal was supposed to reduce the volume and strength of the biosolids in sewage so the residue could be safely applied to farm fields. Instead, the resulting sludge at the Albany plant is unfit for applying to fields and has had to be trucked to the landfill at Coffin Butte.

At the Water Gardens, the city claims $4 million for additional engineering and consulting; $22 million to line the ponds holding treated wastewater so they don't leak; and $7 million to acquire more land to expand the wetlands.

Adding all the claims to arrive at a sum, as I have done in the first paragraph, doesn't necessarily make sense, though. For example, if Cannibal is replaced with a treatment solution that works, sludge will not have to be hauled to landfills for 20 years.

The lawsuit asks for a jury trial. But it's a long process before it comes to that, if it does, and the city has said it's open to continued discussions with CH2M Hill. Meanwhile, if Coffin Butte quits accepting the sludge from the Albany plant -- as it might, to keep from getting full sooner than planned -- Albany may have to truck the stuff to Arlington at much greater expense. (hh)

The Talking Water Gardens as seen from the Cox Creek bike path in October 2016.






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