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Needed - expert on board

April 04, 1997

Just when we thought we'd heard all the bad news there was to hear about Washington County's sewer system, out comes another unpleasant tidbit - three years after it was built, an industrial wastewater pretreatment plant needs an upgrade that will cost almost $2 million. Before another dollar is spent, the commissioners need a long-term strategy for this facility.

The plant was built to treat liquid leaching out of a closed landfill and to attract new industries by giving them a facility to treat industrial wastes. The problem, county officials say, is that the plant wasn't designed to handle the oily waste generated by Mack Trucks, which represents 10 percent at most of the flow coming in. Some of the cash - about $165,000 - will be needed just to repair damage already done to the plant by the oily wastes.

Commissioner Jim Wade and others rightly question the wisdom of spending so much on upgrades for a customer who uses only 10 percent of the capacity at a plant which doesn't make a profit anyway. Commissioner R. Lee Downey wants to see a study showing how the plant might be marketed to industry before any more money is spent.

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Both suggestions are prudent, but we would add one other: Get an economic development director on board as soon as possible. To market this facility and this county, the commissioners need an experienced professional who not only knows how to sell, but one who can also advise them on what industries need.

For example, if only 2 percent of those industries seeking new sites need a pre-treatment facility like this one, then it doesn't make sense to go into debt to upgrade it. If, on the other hand, most manufacturers would rather contract out this function, then it would make sense for the county to do it, or find a private contractor who will handle the chore for them. The county does needs a study, but it also needs a professional to advise them on economic-development matters.

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