Sewer plan moves forward

The Bainbridge Island City Council signed off last week on the south-end sewer plan.

And while that was a necessary step towards bringing sewer service for four south-end neighborhoods, it didn’t ensure that the sewers will actually be installed.

The critical step will probably be the hearings on the formation of local improvement districts to pay for the work, city Administrator Lynn Nordby said.

“When you start actually figuring out what the boundaries will be, that’s when you will have to find out whether you can actually afford it,” he said.

The council’s vote accepts an amendment to the island’s comprehensive plan permitting the sewer extensions, and approves a general plan. That plan will be forwarded to the state Department of Ecology, for what Nordby expects to be routine approval.

Residents of the neighborhoods that are seeking sewer service – Emerald Heights, Rockaway Beach, the northern portions of Pleasant Beach and Point White – say their septic systems fail frequently because of poor soils, lots too small to accommodate drainfields and proximity to Puget Sound.

They want to connect to the Fort Ward sewer treatment plant owned and operated by Kitsap County Sewer District No. 7.

The district has said it would permit residents outside of the geographic boundaries of Fort Ward to hook up under certain conditions, including that all costs be borne by the residents seeking hookups and that the presence of sewers not be used to increase the zoned density.

Some members of the council were skeptical about the neighborhood requests, fearing that despite stipulations to the contrary, the presence of sewers could still increase population density by such things as enabling building on lots that cannot presently be developed.

There were also concerns about costs. Some neighborhood residents say their septic systems are functioning well, and do not want to pay the costs of installation.

The normal procedure, Nordby said, is for each property in the area within an LID to pay a proportionate share of the costs for the sewer line and the pump station – estimated to be in the $6,000 to $9,000 range for each home.

If and when each home is actually connected to the sewer, it pays for the on-property piping and pays a connection fee to the sewer district – costs totalling some $10,000 per home.

But the comprehensive plan amendment approved by the council adjusts that process. It stipulates that homes with functioning septic systems pay nothing, either for individual hookups or for a share of the cost of the sewer pipes and pumping. The legality of that provision has not been determined.

The funding mechanism is formation of a Local Improvement District, or LID. The city sells LID bonds to pay for the work, then assesses property within the district a sufficient amount to repay the bonds.

The next step will be for the neighborhoods involved to begin the process of defining the LID, Nordby said. The objective is to form a district that is compact enough geographically to encompass a strong majority of people who want the improvement, yet still be big enough to make the improvement affordable.

The unusual proviso allowing people within the geographic boundaries of a district to opt out from paying may be a poison pill, Nordby said.

“When it’s all said and done, (those left in the LID) may not be able to afford it,” he said.

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