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South-end sewer plan out for reviewBut the city has yet to reach an agreement for service.
"Extension of sewer service to several south-end neighborhoods is under way, at least formally, with the official release of a consultant's service plan.Under state law, we have to have a general sewer plan before we can begin any work on the ground, city manager Lynn Nordby said. The release of the report gets us to the point where public process starts, including city council hearings. The plan, which had been circulated in draft form last spring, would guide the extension of service to Emerald Heights, Rockaway Beach, upper portions of Pleasant Beach and Point White, where widespread septic-system failures have been reported. Blakely Elementary School could also be connected.Those neighborhood systems would connect to the treatment plant in Fort Ward owned by the Kitsap County Sewer District No. 7. That plant, built to resolve long-standing water-pollution problems from Fort Ward, has extra capacity to serve other areas, and is capable of expansion.Release of the plan came as good news to Ron Kinney of Ruby Place, one of the Emerald Heights residents who has been leading the sewer-service efforts.This is the first movement we've had in nine months, he said. The plan is subject to state-mandated environmental review, which will not necessarily be routine. In other contexts, citizen groups have argued that sewer availability inevitably promotes higher densities, and that septic systems may be more environmentally friendly because they recharge aquifers.I expect we'll hear about those things at the hearings, Nordby said.While Nordby acknowledged the theoretical connection between sewer availability and growth, he does not believe connecting the neighborhoods that want sewer now will lead to greater densities.These are all fully built-out neighborhoods, Nordby said. While the schedule in the consultant's plan calls for construction to begin as early as June of 2001, Nordby admits that is optimistic. The duration of the public-review process is uncertain, and the city council is already behind the schedule set out in the plan.There's really no way to know when we can start, he said, Nor does the release of the study guarantee that the sewer plan will go forward. The city has yet to negotiate an agreement with the sewer district for service, which several district commissioners reminded city council members at last Wednesday's meeting. The issuesAccording to the study, aquifer recharge is not a big issue, Nordby said. The consultants reported that most water that percolates through septic systems evaporates rather than percolating downward into a groundwater aquifer.When hookups do come, though, they will not be cheap. Estimated costs per household are $22,000 in Rockaway Beach, $18,600 on Point White Drive, $17,300 in Emerald Heights and $16,000 on the north end of Pleasant Beach.Those costs can be spread over time through Utility Local Improvement Districts (ULIDs) in each neighborhood. The city sells bonds, then assesses property within the district to repay them.That lets the property owner pay for the sewer connection over ten or 15 years, and take advantage of the city's tax-exempt finance rates, Nordby said.Kinney said the projected costs are in line with what the Emerald Heights neighborhood expected.We used number of between 15 and 20 thousand dollars, he said.A potential difficulty with the ULID mechanism, though, is that individual property owners have a very limited ability to opt out. If they are included in the district, they must pay the assessment whether they hook up to the system or not. A limited exception exists for elderly people on limited incomes.Kinney said that despite the high outlay, sewer connections quickly become cost-effective because the cost of septic repairs is so high.We had one guy who was against the district originally, Kinney said. Then he spent several thousand dollars getting his septic system repaired. After that, the repair people told him it was a matter of when, not if, he would need additional work, and even that would not be permanent.He became a district supporter in a hurry, Kinney said.Emerald Heights, Pleasant Beach and Rockaway Beach have submitted petitions to form ULIDs. Nordby said the city council will view those petitions as indications of neighborhood support, and will begin the process of forming city-sponsored districts.The hearing process benefits the people in the proposed district by giving them an extra opportunity to make up their minds, he said.The bond-financing mechanism was interrupted in 1999 when voters passed Initiative 695, required a public vote on all new taxes, a term defined broadly enough to encompass assessments made to repay bonds. Because of uncertainty about what voters would have to approve the district assessments, the city's bond counsel would not sign off on any ULID financing.That cloud was lifted in October when the Washington State Supreme Court declared I-695 unconstitutional. The Point White neighborhood is discussing paying for a sewer connection through what is known as a developers extension. That does not imply that there would be any new development in the area, Nordby said, but simply means the line will be privately financed. Once installed, though, the line would become property of the city. "