Clallam County officials spent several hours Aug. 7 listening to Carlsborg-area residents express their concerns about a proposed sewer project for the Urban Growth Area.
Also present were Clallam County Public Utility District representatives, including Commissioner Will Purser, and staff members from the City of Sequim, including Public Works Director Paul Haines.
More than 50 residents comprised the fluctuating crowd, with a majority living outside the boundaries of the UGA. Of the questionnaires handed out to audience members, 25 were returned, with eight indicating they owned property in the UGA. The most common concerns were that a sewer system wouldn’t be affordable, would damage property values and would be forced on residents who live outside the UGA.
Under the state’s Growth Management Act, the UGA must have plans for certain infrastructure, including plans and funding for a sewer system.
County Commissioner Jim McEntire acted as moderator for the discussion and spent most of the meeting fielding questions.
The first public comment was made by David Bendell, who lives outside the project boundaries but in the Carlsborg area. Bendell said Carlsborg does not have lots of houses per block the way Sequim does and most people do not feel it is feasible to have a sewer system serve the area.
Bendell said the county “will have to come up with real numbers to show people before shoving it (the sewer system) down people’s throats and sending them a bill.”
Haines said Sequim city staff are working on providing the county figures on how much it would cost to pipe sewage to an existing wastewater treatment system in Sequim, which is one of two options. If the city can provide the service at a lower cost, it will do so, he said.
The second option is to build a sewer and wastewater treatment system in Carlsborg.
Purser said the PUD’s proposed wastewater treatment system plan qualifies for low-interest loans and grants, which is important to make it more affordable.
“If it isn’t affordable, it isn’t feasible, then it isn’t the best plan,” he said.
The PUD will be the utility provider no matter which option is picked, McEntire said after the meeting.
McEntire told the crowd the cost of the proposed $15.6 million system is funded by $10 million from the State Public Works Trust Fund, which the county committed to repaying with the Opportunity Fund, a $3 million grant from the county and a $1 million loan from the county. There is a remaining $1.6 million to be obtained and in a handout county staff said they are continuing to apply for more local, state and federal funding.
McEntire said the idea is to keep cost low initially to encourage people to connect to the sewer early. A regular monthly rate will be comparable to what other people on sewer systems pay, he said.
According to the handout by county staff and BHC Consultants, one possible way of phasing in connection charges might be as follows:
• Subscription period during a few months before design starts for existing development at a charge of $100 to $1,000.
• Extended subscription period could follow through bid advertisement with charges of $1,000 to $5,000 for existing development and $5,000 to $10,000 for proposed new development.
• Reduced charge period extending for five years after construction completed with charges of $10,000 to $20,000 for existing development and $15,000 to $25,000 for proposed new development.
After the meeting, McEntire said someone with a functioning septic could pay the low connection fee during the subscription period and choose not to connect until their septic system is no longer usable.
According to a contractor in the audience, new septic systems cost around $15,000.
Lisa Donaldson, whose family purchased land in Carlsborg in 1969, said she has been part of the UGA process from the beginning and believes if there were more concrete financial figures given to residents, they could make more educated decisions instead of decisions based on fear and assumptions.
“I know it’s frustrating … but there are things the county is doing trying to keep the numbers down,” she said.
Toward the end of the meeting, which lasted nearly three hours, McEntire tried to move the conversation toward the connection policy. A handful of people stood up and walked out.
McEntire asked for input on incentives to connect and how to make it easier and less costly.
“It doesn’t make any sense to create a utility too expensive to connect to,” he said to a thinning audience.
Bendell said he is concerned (if the sewer system comes in) that people will subdivide lots and make “shanty towns” in Carlsborg. He repeated the old saw, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
“We don’t really want you to fix Carlsborg, we think it’s just fine the way it is,” he said.
Marnee Foldoe, who owns land inside the UGA and lives right outside the boundaries, said the area is not wealthy like Bell Hill and she doesn’t believe Carlsborg residents want or need a sewer system or a UGA.
“We don’t need sidewalks, we don’t need streetlights,” she said.
McEntire said he is not willing to re-litigate the UGA. To do so would hurt all the people who purchased property with the expectation they could do with it what is allowed under the UGA, he said.
After the meeting, McEntire said there will be some people who won’t be happy no matter which sewer system the county chooses simply because they don’t want the UGA. But to go instead to LAMIRD (Limited Areas of More Intensive Rural Development) would damage people’s property rights, he said.
Don Butler, a business owner in Carlsborg, said the project isn’t just about complying with the GMA but also about maintaining the 1,100 jobs in the UGA.
“I’m one of those hated business owners in the industrial park,” he said, later adding he purchased the property knowing it was in a UGA and that a sewer would eventually come through.
Barbara Butcher said the lack of a sewer has substantially decreased the value of the five acres she owns in the Industrial Park, plummeting from $365,000 to $36,000.
“If the sewer system eventually comes in, everyone’s property values would probably go up,” she said, adding she’d be happy to sell her land to anyone.
Michael Stoppani, who owns a home outside the UGA boundaries next to the proposed location of the wastewater treatment system, read a statement objecting to the placement of the percolation ponds and sewage plant on Idea Place.
“We, the surrounding homeowners, should not be subjected to the potential health risks from the chemical emissions, the noise from the running of the plant and odors,” he said. “The Department of Ecology says that odors come from all sewer treatment plants and percolation ponds no matter how new, or advanced they are. You have created a public stigma on our homes that has vastly devalued, if not totally destroyed, their value even as we speak because of the totally inappropriate location for this sewage treatment plant and percolation ponds.”
Stoppani said residential properties surround the location on three sides but because they are not in the UGA they haven’t been kept in the loop during the proposed sewer project process.
“Why the county commissioners and the City of Sequim can’t get together and hammer out a financial solution to this nightmare is beyond me, surely, the only reasonable and the least disruptive solution for the residents affected by this thoughtless and cold-hearted decision is to send the Carlsborg sewage to the Sequim sewage treatment facility which you have always said and still publish is an option,” he said.
Purser said the proposal to pipe sewage to Sequim sounds good but depends on cost.
McEntire agreed that if shipping the wastewater to Sequim makes the most cost sense he would support it and there would be no stigma to area properties.
“We’d buy ourselves out of a huge problem if we could ship it to Sequim,” McEntire later said in an interview. “Why in the world would we want to build a facility at huge cost when public money has already been spent on facilities in Sequim?”
After the meeting, Community Development Director Sheila Roark Miller said she supports piping the sewage to Sequim to ensure there would be no damage to property values.
McEntire said the proposed facilities plan, which includes both options, is undergoing approval at the state level right now. Once approval is received, the county will chose which option will work best and sign an inter-local agreement with the PUD.
McEntire assured meeting participants that when the county has concrete numbers and plans it will let the public know.