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Tempers flare over sewer plan

"Amid heated charges of intentional delay, a short-handed City Council Wednesday tabled for two more weeks discussion of a Comprehensive Plan amendment that could bring sewer service to portions of the south island.The council's 3-2 vote puts off action on the proposal past the council's self-imposed deadline of May 1 to approve language and send it to the city Planning Commission.I am particularly concerned with the deliberate delays by some of my fellow council persons, Councilman Merrill Robison said in a prepared speech that he read after Christine Nasser, Lois Curtis and Norm Wooldridge acted to table the proposal.Robison and Jim Llewellyn wanted an immediate vote; councilmembers Michael Pollock and Liz Murray were absent.Thursday, Nasser denied that any deliberate delay was involved.Norm and I were not prepared to react, not at that meeting, she said. But this issue is unquestionably resolvable, and is scheduled for the next meeting.Approval of Comprehensive Plan amendment language is itself a minor step in the process of making sewer service available to south-end neighborhoods facing what they believe to be a major emergency.But in a flow chart that the council adopted on March 14, that step was listed as the first to be taken, and Robison said he is concerned that the whole schedule will begin to slip. The schedule aims at actually installing sewers in the summer of 2001.Although the council had given itself the May 1 deadline, the issue was not on the council's printed meeting agenda.At Robison's urging, Curtis drafted language stating that the council will consider extending sewer service to neighborhoods on the South End of the Island which have poor hydrologic and geologic conditions for on-site sewage disposal and which have a history of acute septic system failures.The neighborhoods specified as possible sewer candidates were Lynwood Center, Point White Drive, Pleasant Beach, Emerald Heights and Rockaway Beach, together with the Schel-Chelb Estuary and Blakely Elementary School.Robison moved from the floor to consider the proposed language. Wooldridge and Nasser objected and moved to table, which was passed.The exchange was the latest chapter in the often-emotional debate about sewer service on the south end of the island, where poor soil conditions and small waterfront lots can make septic-system operations problematic. Residents of the affected neighborhoods want to hook up to the Fort Ward sewage-treatment plant built and operated by Kitsap County Sewer District No. 7. The district has more capacity than it needs to serve its geographic boundaries, and has offered to allow outsiders to connect on certain conditions, among them that its members not bear any of the additional expense and that the sewers not be used to increase density.Curtis's proposed comprehensive plan amendment included a no-increase-in-density provision.But those statements haven't allayed concerns.There is no question but that sewer service will allow some lots to be built on that can't be built on now, said Curtis, generally a sewer supporter, referring to lots that are too small for septic systems, or that have prohibitive soil conditions. Sewer skeptics, including council members Pollock, Wooldridge and Nasser and some members of the Bainbridge Island Planning Commission, question whether it is possible to add sewers without adding density. They are concerned that under the Growth Management Act, which aims to concentrate density where urban services are available, the provision of those services will inevitably lead to higher density in those areas.The council's May 1 deadline for approving language to submit to the commission was only an internal time frame. Proposed amendments to the Bainbridge Island Comprehensive Plan may be filed between May 1 and June 30.The schedule estimates that it will take six months for the commission to approve any amendment, and anticipates that other work on the overall sewer plan will occur during that time. I think the council has gotten bogged down in some other issues and the urgency is not there, she said. But the neighborhoods are still feeling the urgency. "

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