The City of Whitewater Digester Clarification That Could Use a Clarification

There’s a paragraph from Whitewater’s City Manager Update for 3.20.15 that proposes a clarification about the digester project proposed as part of an overall, $20.7 million-dollar upgrade to the city’s wastewater treatment facilities.

First, the city’s clarification (my emphasis added):

Wastewater Treatment Facility Upgrade Clarification

When an issue as complex and technically detailed as the proposed upgrades to the wastewater treatment facility gets in the news, there are bound to be errors and points needing clarification. Such is the case with the wastewater project. One such point of confusion is related to waste digesters. Some in the community believe that part of the proposed project involves the installation of digesters at the wastewater treatment facility. The truth is that the wastewater treatment facility already has two anaerobic digesters on site. The existing digesters were installed when the plant was built in the early 1980s. These digesters have been fully functional and in use for 30 years. What is under consideration as part of the project is the installation of additional equipment within the digesters that would increase operational efficiency within the digesters. Staff thanks all those who have provided coverage of this project whether it be through websites, blogs, or newspapers. Staff further hopes that those covering the project will continue to do so. If anyone in the community has a question regarding the project, they are invited to contact a city staff member for further details.

I’ll offer three points now, in order of importance.

First, the clarification’s implication that what is under consideration is simply an increase in operational efficiency is false, and patently so. This proposal isn’t a matter of degree, but of kind. For city officials to suggest otherwise is either to misunderstand their own project, or to hope that residents misunderstand it.

Second, there’s something risible about the claim that the city’s update aims to set others straight about this ‘complex and technically detailed’ proposal. One can easily demonstrate – and I will — that Wastewater Superintendent Tim Reel has from his earliest discussions before Council, and since, both misrepresented Whitewater’s history with digesters and failed to consider even the simplest facts about his own project. One can show that virtually every presentation he’s given has been riddled with these problems of analysis, foresight, and (it seems) basic candor.

Here’s an opportunity: I’d invite Messrs. Clapper and Reel to consider the City of Whitewater’s recent presentation to the Whitewater School Board (for which, after all, they are responsible). If upon reviewing it they think their explanation of the project is sound, then I’d invite them to consider whether they see clearly what a sound project is. I mean this sincerely: there’s still time to rethink what good work requires.

Third, I have no idea what some residents misunderstand; it’s enough to see and demonstrate that city officials have both a weak grasp of fundamentals, an apparent penchant for withholding key information, and a willingness to flack the project rather than describe it candidly. (That the city update on the digester begins condescendingly, all these problems to be presented, is too funny.)

As for my own, upcoming writing about this proposal, I’ve a tentative start date (mid-April), but still many questions to resolve in my own mind. There’s vital information that the city has not made public (but should have). There’s more than enough to see and show that this is a shallow effort, but still a full assessment requires more information that city government has not provided. There should be an order to getting that information; I’ll follow that order.

Finally, this project is necessarily important for Whitewater, but aspects of it may have a greater appeal, to a wider audience. This proposal may be suitable for a case study on error and overreach. (Many thanks to those helping me see it this way.) That won’t change my work on the project, but may influence how I write about it.

In any event, the start of a long process of published assessment will begin soon.

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Ayn Rand
9 years ago

Show this deal for what it is for residents and for those hiding behind it.Here’s your chance to set an example.