Washougal gets $1M loan for wastewater facility

Loan could help ease burden on city’s water, sewer ratepayers

The city of Washougal has been awarded a $1 million loan from the Washington state government’s public works assistance account for its wastewater treatment plant improvement project.

“I don’t know the exact interest rate dynamics, but it’s a preferred interest rate over market rate. If we went out for a revenue bond for this $1 million, we’d pay whatever the market rate is for a city with our bond rating, but the loan will be a lower rate,” Washougal City Manager David Scott told city councilors during an Aug. 9 workshop. “This helps us in terms of doing everything we can to mitigate costs moving forward, which translates into rates. We’re doing everything we can to mitigate (costs) in that area.”

Money in the public works assistance account is used to make loans and grants and to give financial guarantees to local governments for public works projects.

“I wanted to give a shout-out to our legislative delegation and the legislature as a whole for their support in reestablishing and refunding the public works assistance account. Sen. (Ann) Rivers and Reps. (Brandon) Vick and (Larry) Hoff: Thank you on behalf of this community and every community in the state,” Scott said. “That was something that got scaled back significantly during the Great Recession, and it took some time, as the state was making some cuts, to get reestablished. But it’s a self-sustaining account — as we make our payments back, they can loan more money out. It’s one of the best examples of a state and local partnership to deliver important infrastructure to communities, so we’re really grateful to our legislative delegation for that.”

The city is planning to expand its wastewater treatment facility by constructing a biosolids mechanical plant, a state-mandated improvement required by the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE). Engineers currently estimate the expansion project will cost between $12.5 million and $14 million, according to Trevor Evers, the city’s public works director. Construction will begin in early 2023 and finish by mid-2024, Evers said.

Over the past year, Washougal residents have demanded answers about their water and sewer bills, which they claim are significantly higher than previous invoices.

“We want to send a message to the city that we need a resolution to high water rates,” Washougal resident Dee McGrath told the Post-Record in 2020. “This is hurting the community. It hurts the growth of our community.”

Capital facilities costs incurred by projects such as the biosolid plant construction are a significant driver of rates, according to Evers.

“Again, to reiterate, these projects are mandated by DOE,” Evers said in 2020. “We are always cognizant of the impacts and mitigate the costs as much as possible. Cities the size of Washougal can have higher rates due to the need for new facilities which can only be paid for by a smaller number of customers.”