State funds likely for sewer project

Despite an anonymous protest, a low-interest state loan for the south Bainbridge sewer project is almost assured.

The project’s rank: number six out of 162 applicants.

Past history: the state has never failed to fund at least the top 25.

“This is a strong indication that the project is going to get funded,” said John LaRocque, director of the state’s Public Works Board.

At issue is a $5.6 million loan for 20 years at a rate of one-half of 1 percent to pay for sewer lines in four south-end neighborhoods, where residents say adverse soil conditions, small lots and proximity to Puget Sound have made septic systems problematic.

“That should finance pretty much everything,” said Tom McKerlick of the city’s engineering staff, who has been working on the project.

The Public Works Board will adopt a final project list on Aug. 19, LaRocque said, reflecting the amount of money available.

“Between now and then, we will be working any way we can to get every dollar possible, and looking at other possible sources of project funding,” he said.

LaRocque said changes in the preliminary list are usually only made if a project is not ready to proceed. And while the Legislature could also make changes, that has not ever happened in the 16 years the Public Works Trust Fund has been in existence, he said.

“If you get this high on the list, your chances are excellent,” LaRocque said.

As projected costs escalated, the low-interest loan and its dramatic impact on annual payments began to take on a make-or-break aspect for sewer advocates in Emerald Heights, Rockaway Beach, upper Pleasant Beach and Point White.

“This is good news for the residents and for the city,” said Charles Hawk of Rockaway Beach, a neighborhood representative who has worked with the city.

The city plans to form a Local Improvement District that includes the four neighborhoods. All properties within the LID would be assessed to pay for the costs of extending the sewer line itself, and of connecting those lines to the Fort Ward treatment plant operated by Kitsap County Sewer District 7.

The original plan was to sell bonds, but the low-interest loan would make bonds unnecessary.

The city has absorbed some planning costs to date, and has approved other costs to be repaid out of construction funds.

“This means there are no bond-issue costs and the city will get its money back,” Hawk said. “Everybody wins.”

An anonymous group calling itself “Concerned Citizens in the Proposed LID” sent state officials a five-page letter arguing that the city’s loan application was “incomplete, inaccurate and misleading.”

The letter argued that no widespread problem exists with south-end septic systems, and that state money should not be dedicated to the project.

LaRocque said the letter is unlikely to have any impact on the board, whose members received copies.

“We don’t have our own separate process here to determine the merits of the application, but we leave that to the agency, and I would assume that there has been ample public process surrounding this issue on Bainbridge,” he said.

“When we get letters like this, we will ask the agency applying to look into it, but when the letter is anonymous, there is no way to confirm what was said, and nothing to look into. That letter will probably receive almost no weight,” he said.

The next step is to determine a date for the initial hearing on forming the LID. Notices will be sent to all property owners within the district announcing the hearing and providing cost estimates.

The hearing kicks off a 30-day protest period. If more than 60 percent of owners within a neighborhood protest, that neighborhood will be dropped from the project.

After the protest period ends, the Bainbridge City Council will have to make a final determination of whether to go ahead with the LID.

If the project goes forward, construction will begin next spring.

Last month, an anonymous flyer was distributed throughout the neighborhoods, apparently from the same individuals that wrote to LaRocque, urging property owners to vote against the LID.

Kirsten Hytopoulos, the Emerald Heights representative on the steering committee, said she does not think the flyers had any impact.

“There seems to be pretty much a unanimous feeling that this group has no credibility,” she said. “If they want to talk to us, I would be happy to hear them out, but otherwise this is not worth listening to.”

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