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South-end sewer costs too much for some

South-end neighborhoods that want sewer service have gotten a close look at the price tag – almost $30,000 per home.

And while waterfront residents want to push ahead as soon as possible, the more modest inland neighborhood that started the whole process may find the costs prohibitive.

“The sum is outrageous and unaffordable,” said Kirsten Hytopoulos of Emerald Heights. “I’m very concerned we won’t be able to do it.”

Consultant Gary Bourne Thursday provided the Bainbridge City Council with a progress report on the plan to connect four neighborhoods – Emerald Heights, Pleasant Beach, Crystal Springs and Rockaway Beach – to the treatment plant operated by Kitsap County Sewer District No. 7.

The next step in the long-running effort is to pass a resolution of intent to form Local Improvement Districts, which will be presented to the council next month. Leaving time for the necessary procedural steps, Bourne said construction could begin in August of next year.

“Let’s get going,” said Chet Richmond of Rockaway Beach. “It’s been four and a half to five years since we got started.”

Bourne estimates it will cost $2.8 million to build the sewer lines linking the four neighborhoods to the Fort Ward plant.

That includes design and construction administration costs, legal and engineering costs, plus the costs the city has already spent.

Each neighborhood’s share of that total varies, depending on the type of system mandated by the topography and the distance the sewer line must extend. Per-lot shares would be $7,400 in Pleasant Beach to almost $15,000 in Emerald Heights.

But those charges are only the beginning. There is the cost involved in actually hooking each home into the main line, which ranges from a high of $8,100 per home on Rockaway Beach to a low of $2,400 in Emerald Heights, which can use gravity-flow.

Added to that is the $10,000-per-connection cost charged by KCSD to keep the extension of service to the new areas cost-neutral to current patrons, and a “latecomer” charge to tie into the pumps and lines running to Lynwood Center.

Add it all up, and the per-lot costs are just under $30,000 for Emerald Heights, Point White and Rockaway, and almost $27,000 for Pleasant Beach.

The plan is to form a single LID, but to have five different cost units – one each for the four neighborhoods, and a fifth for Blakely Elementary School, which also wants sewers.

Bonds will be sold to finance the work. Those receiving the service can either pay the whole cost up-front, or defer it over a period of time, typically 12 to 15 years.

The deferred costs will be collected annually as a tax assessment, Bourne said, with annual interest in the 4-5 percent range.

Properties within the geographic boundaries of an LID will not have to hook up to the sewer so long as their septic system is functioning properly. They will, however, have to pay their portion of the main-line construction costs – the number that approaches $15,000 for Emerald Heights.

Monthly service charges are estimated to be roughly $50.

But paying $30,000 – even over 12 to 15 years – is simply not feasible in the Emerald Heights area, where homes generally sell for under $300,000, Hytopoulos said.

“That’s 15 percent of the value of most of these houses,” she said. “It would cost at least $250 a month, and that’s not something we can do. We made a lot of sacrifices to be able to live on the island, but I’m afraid we will have to sell our house at a loss and move to North Kitsap.”

The neighborhoods requesting sewer say septic systems don’t work in their areas due to a combination of poor subsoil conditions, small lots and proximity to Puget Sound. Emerald Heights has always been regarded as the neighborhood with the greatest need – indeed, some city council members have suggested that the area be connected first.

Hytopoulos said that when she and her husband bought their house last year, they were told that sewer costs could be as high as $18,000. A preliminary sewer plan drafted in 2000 estimated Emerald Heights costs at $17,300.

“We would not have bought the house is we had known it would be $30,000,” she said.

Hytopoulos doesn’t doubt the need for sewers.

“This has been an incredibly dry summer, but the curtain drain in our ditch is flowing every day, and when I work in my garden, the soil is saturated,” she said. “There is no place for the effluent to go.”

She believes the neighborhood is approaching a crisis situation.

“People here are putting a lot of time and effort into their homes,” she said, “but will they continue to do that if it will all go into a black hole because they can’t sell their homes? I’m afraid some people will just decide to walk away from their property.”

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