Wrangell moves forward on new water treatment plant

Wrangell as seen from Mount Dewey on July 24, 2014. (Creative Commons photo by James Brooks)

The City of Wrangell struggles to meet peak water demands. Last year, the city decided to build a new $9 million water treatment plant to fix that, but the project stalled. Now the city has finally secured enough federal money to move forward.

The City of Wrangell applied for a $3 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration. That was a year and a half ago. The agency said it would finally sign off or deny the request by the end of last month.

Assemblywoman Patti Gilbert wasn’t optimistic that the feds would fork over the money.

“I just thought, well, they’re just going to send us at the very last minute a letter that says ‘We’re not going to fund you at this time’,” Gilbert said.

But the EDA did say yes.

“It just never ceases to amaze me the glacial speed governments have to work at,” Gilbert said.

City staff went back and forth with the agency. The EDA would ask for more information, the city would provide it, and then the EDA would continue to come back with even more points of clarification.

“I asked them ‘Is this normally how long an EDA application review takes?’ and they said ‘No’. So I said ‘Why did ours take so much longer than normal?” said Amber Al-Haddad, the public facilities director for Wrangell.

EDA told Al-Haddad that a water treatment plant is not something the agency would normally fund.

But Wrangell made the case that water is essential for all aspects of life in town, including the economy.

We went to our largest employers in the community to ask, if we had adequate water, will you be making additional investments within your business,” said Carol Rushmore, the city’s economic development director.

In that case, seafood processors, a health care provider and many small businesses said they’d invest tens of millions of dollars in the town over the next decade.

The city will pair this grant with $7 million already secured in grants and loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The new plant would replace Wrangell’s current slow sand filtration system which is… slow.

“I hate to say it’s probably the easiest thing to tackle,” said Assemblywoman Gilbert. She knows it’s just one fix to Wrangell’s water woes. This will hopefully take care of Wrangell’s water treatment. Wrangell still struggles with storing, delivering and getting enough water.

It doesn’t involve digging up all the pipes, it doesn’t involve building a new reservoir, and of course we can’t control the availability of water,” Gilbert said.

The city is working these angles as well, from fixing leaking pipes to asking the community to conserve.

The city says the new plant should be up in running in three years.

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