Decant debate wafts back in

A citizen committee charged with trying to put to rest public controversy over a so-called “decant” facility will hold its first meeting tomorrow, its charge to determine whether the whole problem can be shipped off the island.

The directive came after public outcry greeted two plans for on-island sites, first on lower Weaver Road and then on city property on New Brooklyn Road.

“Our charge from the city council is to see if there is a way not to leave anything on the island,” said Public Works Director Randy Witt.

At issue is a facility where water can be removed from the wet residues from ditch cleaning, street sweeping and the cleaning of storm-sewer catch-basins.

The material is emptied from street sweepers and vacuum trucks and placed on large screened trays to allow the water to seep out. Because the muck can be contaminated – generally with petroleum residues from roadways – disposal of both the water and the resulting solids is regulated.

The water is routed into the sewer system to be treated at the wastewater treatment plant before being discharged into Puget Sound. The solids are tested, then taken to the appropriate disposal facility, generally a landfill on the Kitsap Peninsula.

But what the city calls “street and stormwater maintenance materials,” or SSWMM, smells like something else to the neighbors.

“No matter how you look at it, this is a sewage treatment facility,” said Stan Stunnell of Commodore Lane, whose yard backs up to the proposed New Brooklyn site. “The ditches fill up with garbage, leavings of autos and other things that need to be cleaned up.”

Neighbors also objected to the presence of vacuum and sweeper trucks, claiming their presence would create a safety hazard for students walking to and from the nearby schools, and worried about noise.

The city now has a makeshift facility at the head of the bay. That facility can’t be used forever, though, because of its limited capacity and its proximity to a well recharge area.

Hoping to avoid pitting neighborhood against neighborhood, the city council directed that off-island disposal sites first be considered.

One possibility is to use the county facility in Brownsville, either directly emptying the sweepers and vacuum trucks there, or developing a short-term storage facility on the island, where larger loads could accumulate, reducing the number of trips. Each method of operation has its disadvantages, Witt said.

“The trucks don’t have a large capacity, so if you run them there directly, you eat up a lot of time, which could require hiring extra staff and possibly more equipment,” he said. “If you have a storage facility on the island, it starts to look an awful lot like a decant facility.”

Committee members include Bill Davis, Amy Fowler, Jack Docter, Ramon Beluche, Don Flora and David Harrison.

The committee Thursday will receive a preliminary report from Patrick Allen of Entranco, engineering consultants engaged to work on the siting problem.

Allen’s report gives the committee an array of 11 alternatives, and criteria such as cost, aesthetics, environmental impacts and public acceptance. The committee’s task will be to weigh the criteria, then rank each of the options according to those criteria. Out of that mix will come a recommendation to the council.

“I don’t know right now if this is a big or a small issue in terms of changing city operations,” Flora said, “but it looks to me like they’re asking the right questions.”

The committee will meet at 3 p.m. Jan. 16 in the council chambers.

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