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Neighbors: move ahead on sewers

After five years of rehearsals, the south island sewer debate finally had its first and only formal run Monday night, as city staff, consultants, friends and foes of the sewer plan said for the record what they have been saying over and over again during the lengthy debate.

Sewers protect the environment, and promote or preserve property values, say the friends.

Septics protect the environment, and sewers are a needless expense, say the foes.

The argument that may have won the day, though, focused squarely on the bottom line – an ultra-low-interest state loan to finance construction.

“My septic system works fine, but I don’t expect it to outlast the house, and I don’t look forward to replacing it,” said Jim Mooney of Pleasant Beach.

“The economics are irresistible. This is the best possible deal, and I’d like to take it,” he said.

The occasion was the formal hearing before the City Council on forming a Local Improvement District to finance sewer construction in four south-end neighborhoods – Emerald Heights, upper Pleasant Beach, Rockaway Beach and Point White.

A combination of poor subsurface soil conditions, small lots and proximity to Puget Sound have made septic waste disposal in those areas problematic, sewer proponents say. The plan calls for those areas to hook into the Fort Ward sewer treatment plant operated by Kitsap County Sewer District No. 7.

Under the plan, the $2.9 million cost to build the lines themselves would be paid for by a state loan, which property owners would repay over with an interest rate of 1 percent. All property within the boundaries of the LID would be assessed to repay that loan, at annual amounts ranging from $938 per home in Emerald Heights to $417 in Pleasant Beach.

Property owners would have the option of immediately connecting to the sewer, or deferring that cost until later. Those on-site costs, which vary considerably with the individual properties, add a rough average of $15,000, or $900 per year, to the total costs.

“It’s been a long and muddy road,” said Dennis Berry of Emerald Heights. “It’s time to move ahead.”

The debate, as it always has, focused on two issues: the unwillingness of some with adequate septic systems to trade them in for sewers, and the more general question of whether sewers are good or bad for the environment.

“I have a new septic system and a long driveway – how can I protest?” asked Joanne Birkeland of Pleasant Beach.

The answer from City Attorney Rod Kaseguma: a signed, written protest to the city, dated after Sept. 13. And because “an old law” requires signatures, the new technology of email won’t do, he said.

As to the environment, some argued that septic systems recharge aquifers, and should be promoted.

“The Environmental Protection Agency says on-site treatment is superior,” said septic-system installer John Eremic.

But Christy Gibbons of Pleasant Beach was equally adamant on the other side.

“I feel guilty every time I flush the toilet and wonder whether I’m polluting the Sound,” she said.

The Council will consider tonight an ordinance to form the district, although some members indicated they may revisit the issue after the protest period expires, which happens 30 days after the ordinance is adopted.

Council member Norm Wooldridge said he thinks the ordinance will pass.

“It seemed that most of the people there were in favor of the sewers,” he said. “And generally, the people who come to the meetings are those in opposition, so that’s a good sign.”

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