(By Brandon Hansen/Chewelah Independent)
Also discusses new fire station at golf course, upholds marijuana ban…
After a presentation by mayoral candidate Bob Belknap and local businesswoman Debbie Akers, the Chewelah City Council voted unanimously to place a two-year moratorium on demolishing the city’s swimming pool with the understanding that a local group would form to further study the condition of the facility and develop a plan to rehabilitate it at no cost to the city. The council’s decision was followed by a loud round of applause from the large group that had gathered at the meeting in support of the pool.
In his comments, Belknap gave the council a brief history of the swimming pool along with findings from engineer Mike Leisch, which concluded that the shell of the pool is in “sound” condition and that needed repairs to the mechanical systems could be made by volunteers working with the guidance of Leisch.
Leisch previously worked 17 years for the city of Oakland where he, among many other duties, maintained and repaired six pools in that city.
“[Leisch’s] initial findings concur with the Pool World assessment that the shell is in sound condition. He asserts that the leaks can be repaired and, given his experience and skill set, he goes further, stating that the repairs could be made by almost any labor force, including volunteers, with the requisite knowledge base, which he is willing to spend time helping the community acquire,” Belknap said to the council. A 2013 report to the city from Pool World of Spokane had estimated that repair costs could be as much as $400,000, which led to the city’s decision to shutter the pool at that time.
Last month, Belknap and Leisch had been given 30 days to do a visual inspection of the pool and report back to the council.
“What I’ve found in less than 30 days is a feasible path forward, along with a host of people who know what we all know: that nothing worth fighting for is easily won, but we would very much like to try.
“You can help us try. All we are asking of you is time. Two years to sift this thing to the bottom. And, if in two years’ time we’ve come up empty, so-be-it. At least we will have given it a good try. So please, I’m here this evening asking you to place a two-year moratorium on declaring Chewelah’s public swimming pool surplus property. Anything less will short a process that, given the volunteer nature of the efforts involved, requires time,” Belknap asked.
Debbie Akers followed Belknap’s request with her own comments about the health, safety, and recreation benefits that a public swimming pool provides to the residents of the Chewelah area. She also said that a group of local people is forming to take on the task of finding volunteer labor and raising money to get the project done.
Alyssa Helvik, a former manager of the pool, addressed the council with a description of the pool’s usage by community members of all ages when it was open.
“The city pool is not only the place in the summer that provides supervised water fun for all, but the only place in the area that truly teaches kids how to swim. And adults too. Many of us have not only learned to swim here. [We have] worked here, swam here, and even splashed a lifeguard here. It may take some fundraising, some strategic budgeting, and even some frustration, but the outcome, in the end, is worth it. There is nothing that would put a smile on your face than to hear splashes and giggles, seeing swimmers improve, or even burn 600 calories yourself. City council, I challenge you. I challenge you to put a smile back on Chewelah and consider a proposal to save the pool,” Helvik concluded.
Mayor Knauss asked Belknap and Akers if their group had also considered in their analysis the annual maintenance and operating costs of the pool. They indicated that they had and would make provisions for that in their proposal.
Councilman John May raised concerns about the ability of volunteers to fix the leaks in the pool.
“If [the leak] is underneath the swimming pool, it’s not going to be fixed by volunteer labor,” May said.
“Actually, that’s not true,” Belknap answered. “You and I don’t know squat about swimming pools. Mike Leisch does. He’s repaired them, he fixed them for 17 years. For him, it’s a piece of cake. It’s easy to plug the holes, find the leaks, and get them repaired, apparently. It’s not my expertise any more than it’s yours, John. But believe me, he says it’s doable, and I believe him.”
May remained doubtful, but said he supports the idea of rehabilitating the pool.
“I would love to see a swimming pool there. I’ll guarantee you that I have spent more time in the Chewelah swimming pool than anyone in this room. And it makes my heart hurt anytime I go by it to see it empty. I’ve made that statement many times but also it’s our job to maintain the budget of the city and, the way it stands right now, we can’t afford that pool. Maybe there’s another avenue,” May commented.
“We are very mindful of the situation of the city and we’ve taken that into account. If we move forward, it won’t be on your dime,” Belknap assured councilman May.
“I think this is very encouraging,” councilwoman Sharon Ludwig said. “None of us wanted to shut down that pool.”
McMillin resigns council seat
Mayor Knauss announced that councilwoman Roberta McMillin had resigned her council position late last month, citing health reasons. Applications to fill the vacant position will be accepted through July 28, according to a notice posted by the city. Anyone interested in filling the vacant position should send an application letter to the attention of the Mayor at PO Box 258 or at City Hall, 301 E. Clay Ave. Room 104. The term of the position expires at the end of December 2019. The person appointed by council would fill the position until the results of the November 2019 election are certified. Applicants must be a registered voter and a resident of the incorporated limits of the City of Chewelah for at least one year preceding appointment. Applications will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. on July 28, 2017. Inquiries may be directed to the Mayor at 935-8311.
Golf course residents ask for fire station
A group of golf course residents, led by CG&CC president Mike Bentz, concerned about wildfire danger and a lack of fire protection were at the council meeting to get answers about the delay in building a new fire station there.
“It is my understanding that several years ago a CG&CC property was sold to the city with the agreement that the city would build a fire station. In addition, CG&CC added infrastructure to our maintenance shops to accommodate the fire station. Two years ago, we started a discussion with the city on getting a fire station built at the golf course but unfortunately it did not seem to be a priority in their planning at that time,” Bentz explained to the council.
Bentz described several measures that the golf course and residents in the area have taken to reduce the fire danger in their part of town. He said they have developed a evacuation route and homeowner plan; DNR fuel reduction treatments on 26 acres of golf course property; approximately 40 homeowners have completed fuel reduction on their individual properties; and the golf course maintains a water tank and pump on a trailer for emergencies.
“The city agreed that it is not a matter if, but when there will be a catastrophic fire in the general area of the golf course community. It is our understanding the response time from the current fire station would be an issue in controlling a fire. It was recommended by the fire chief that we make the establishment of a fire station a priority to save lives, protect property, and keep insurance rates reasonable,” Bentz said.
He asked the council for a projection on when a station would be built and appropriate equipment in place. He also wondered if there was more the residents could do to encourage the city to make the project a priority.
Knauss explained that she will be taking on the task of applying for a federal USDA-Rural Development grant for the construction of the fire station. She explained that it is a lengthy application process and that City Administrator Mike Frizzell and Clerk Pam McCart have been working on compiling the required information.
“It will be a goal; these things just don’t happen fast,” Knauss said.
Frizzell apologized to Bentz and the residents but explained that his attention lately has been on a surge of building permits. He said there have been 25 permits including six new homes.
“We haven’t had that kind of [building activity] since the early 2000s when the golf course was booming,” he said. “Sometimes things get put on the back burner so I apologize for that and Dorothy is working on [the grant application] at this point so we will get that finished and turned in soon.”
Council upholds ban on marijuana sales
The council voted to continue the city’s ban on marijuana sales after local residents Dan and Trisha Macrae asked them to consider lifting the ban. Ludwig, May and councilman Wight voted to continue the ban. Councilman Payton Norvell voted against continuing the ban. Councilwomen Dee Henderson and Carra Nupp were absent.
The Macraes presented information about potential tax revenue that the city could receive from the state if it allowed sales.
“It’s here, it’s there, it’s everywhere, I don’t know why we’re keeping it out of our town and keeping tax money away from us. I mean, we’re not stopping anything at this point,” Councilman Payton Norvell said about marijuana and added that allowing the sales would open the opportunity for another business and jobs in Chewelah.
“I think at this particular time, with this being a new industry, and actually … in violation of federal law, I think we ought to give it a rest and allow a little time. I think the hassle is worth a little more than the money we would get for it,” councilman May said in opposition to lifting the ban after showing that Colville, for example, only received $9,000 in tax revenue from marijuana sales.
Councilwoman Ludwig asked police chief Mark Burrows for a report on marijuana from a law enforcement perspective.
Burrows gave the council updated statistics on marijuana-related crime, drug use trends, and zoning considerations,
“I see it as it’s already here. You can buy it here in town now,” councilman John Wight said but later voted against lifting the ban.
The next regular Chewelah city council meetings are scheduled for Wednesday, July 19 and Wednesday, August 2 at 6:30 p.m. in the City Hall Council Chambers.