Mar 16 update: Public Works Director Pete Rogalsky provided the amount of untreated water that the fertilizer plant had requested.

The Richland Utility Advisory Committee lacks diversity while it considers a variety of services that affect everyone in the city. It is the only all male committee in Richland and all the current members are retirement age.

There are two vacancies, and with one of the five members absent, four considered a smorgasbord of issues at their March 14 meeting at the Richland City Shops Building.

The committee provides a packet of information before the meeting, but the Fire and Emergency Services Department’s presentation wasn’t included.

Issues the committee considered included the increase in calls to the fire department, mostly for ambulances and emergency medical technicians (EMTs), an explanation for the sudden increases in residents’ utility bills and the sale of electric revenue bonds.  

Water issues were also on the agenda including the amount of untreated water requested by the proposed new “green” Astro Agro fertilizer plant planned for north Horn Rapids.  

The Observer asked Vice-Chair Charles Lo Presti if the committee had considered that the 3 pm meeting time might be a problem for working people who would otherwise be interested in serving on the committee which meets six times a year.

“No one has brought it up,” Lo Presti replied.

According to Energy Services Director Cliff Whitney, who is the staff liaison to the committee, two applicants will be considered soon to fill the two vacant positions.

In 2020 two of the current members of the committee were among the five longest-serving city commission members. Dave Larkin, who had served 15 years then, and Daniel Porter who had served 14 years are still on the committee.

Daniel Porter, a retired nuclear engineer, told the Observer that it was difficult to fill positions due to the type of expertise needed.

In addition to the increase in calls, a representative of the fire department also described the addition of a new “resource navigator” who has been referring patients who don’t have an emergency to either primary care or mental health services in the area. According to the fire department, the contract employee had networked with about 24 area agencies to find services for residents in need.

Whitney updated the group on the status of the electric bill controversy. He described the biggest issue being a reliance on estimated readings coupled with usually cold weather for the period, resulting in customers being charged too little for their actual consumption. When a bill for another cold month arrived with the shortage from the previous months included, it made for unhappy customers who doubled the calls to the Energy Services Department.

The city has committed to ensuring that actual reads are obtained on all meters going forward, if at all reasonably possible, Whitney reported.

Public Works Director Pete Rogalsky told the committee that the city of Richland would be able to provide the untreated water that the proposed fertilizer plant at north Horn Rapids had requested. The system that currently provides irrigation to the area could also provide water to the plant and the amount was unlikely to jeopardize anything in the city’s future, according to Rogalsky.

The Observer reached out to Rogalsky to ask for the amount of water requested. He responded, “The request has been for up to 5.5 million gallons per day. By comparison I believe the Lamb Weston potato processing plants in Richland can use up to 3 million gallons per day.”

The committee voted 4-0 to recommend the sale of $8 million in bonds to the council. The bonds are for capital projects including a new electrical substation at City View and a Stevens electrical substation replacement.

The next meeting will be May 9, 3 pm at the Richland City Shops Building, Room 110, 2700 Duportail Street.