Discord reigns over south-end sewers

Before the city takes the next step towards south-end sewers, some council members want residents to guarantee at least some of the up-front costs.

“The city has shown its good faith, and now it’s time for the neighborhoods to step up,” Norm Wooldridge, public works chair, told south-enders at a Monday committee meeting.

Wooldridge wants representatives of three of the four neighborhoods calling for sewers – Point White, Pleasant Beach and Rockaway Beach – to guarantee they will reimburse the city for the estimated $121,000 to be incurred in the next phase of engineering work.

Unlike Emerald Heights – where sewer service to fix ongoing septic problems is seen as a near certainty – objections by residents in the other neighborhoods could scuttle the sewer plan and leave general taxpayers with engineering costs, some council members fear.

Monday’s round-table attempted to break an impasse that emerged last week, when heated confrontations marred a council discussion of the issue.

Wooldridge said he was concerned that some neighborhoods would not follow through with plans to form Local Improvement Districts to pay for the project.

The concerns were sparked by communications from Point White residents suggesting they would abandon the project if forced to pay for resurfacing Point White Drive after sewer lines are installed.

“Our rules are very clear that you will have to pay for that,” Wooldridge told residents. “When a street is torn up for development, the person doing the work has to pay for the repairs.”

The request for financial guarantees did not sit well with those calling for sewer service.

“I can’t believe you’re still questioning our needs and our interest,” said Julie Schulte of Pleasant Beach. “We’ve been at this for five years, and every time we turn around the city has another hoop for us to jump through.

“When are we going to get something in writing from the city saying what you will do?”

Charles Hawk of Rockaway Beach said it would be impractical to get residents to guarantee the roughly $42,000 share that would be apportioned to his neighborhood.

“I can see myself knocking on the door and asking Mrs. Jones if she’ll be the first to sign the guarantee,” he said. “And when she says ‘how much of that will I have to pay,’ I answer, ‘until somebody else signs up, you’ll have to pay all of it.’

“I don’t think she’ll sign.”

A bigger issue, Hawk said, was the unresolved question of whether everyone within the geographical boundaries of an LID would have to pay the cost of laying the sewer line – or whether homes within the district may opt out on an individual basis, even if the line goes past their home and serves those on either side.

Normal LID procedures require everyone within the area to pay their share of the costs of the infrastructure – pipes, pumps and associated facilities.

Those whose septic systems are functioning well need not hook up immediately. But theoretically, the availability of the line increases property values by making a future hookup possible.

There is significant sentiment on the council to permit complete opting out, Wooldridge said.

But such a provision would be a deal-killer, the neighbors said.

“For every one you allow to drop out, the costs increase to the others,” Hawk said. “As the costs increase, more drop out, meaning the costs increase more, and so on.

“If the city council allows opting out, this can’t work.”

No opt-out?

The three council members on the committee – Wooldridge, Deborah Vann and Bill Knobloch – agreed to recommend that everyone within the LID boundary be required to pay for the infrastructure costs.

Wooldridge’s proposal to require guarantees for the next phase of engineering will be recommended to the full council, with Knobloch dissenting.

Knobloch said he was willing to spend the $121,000 on faith that the LIDs would go forward.

Emerald Heights was exempted from the guarantee request because of the emergency nature of that neighborhood’s needs.

Septic failures in that area are reportedly widespread, creating some guarantees that the project there will go forward.

Under an LID process, the city sells bonds to pay for the costs of the improvement, then bills property owners within the district boundaries to pay off the bonds over a 20-year period.

The south-end neighborhoods all complain of septic problems. They want to hook into the sewage-treatment plant in Fort Ward owned and operated by the Kitsap County Sewer District 7, which has agreed to make capacity available under certain conditions.

The city has said from the outset that any neighborhood sewer connections have to come at no cost to the general taxpayers.

“I’ve had serious reservations about this from the beginning, but I’m willing to move forward if we can get the guarantees,” Wooldridge said. “If we can’t, we’ll just go forward with Emerald Heights.”

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