South-end sewer support stands up

The last major hurdle to bringing sewer service to four south-end neighborhoods may well have been cleared.

Significant opposition failed to materialize, as a period for formal protest to the formation of a Local Improvement District to fund the project ended Friday.

Opposition was strongest in the Pleasant Beach neighborhood, where protests hit 30 percent – half the legal requirement to kill the project. On Rockaway Beach, 16 percent of residents lodged protests, with objections hitting 8 percent and 7 percent, respectively, in the Point White and Emerald Heights neighborhoods.

Had 60 percent of property owners in any neighborhood objected, the plan would have been abandoned there, although the City Council could lower that threshold.

But the numbers appear to make that unlikely.

“I think these numbers are lower than we expected when we first started talking about the protest vote,” said Tom McKerlick, city public works engineer who is coordinating the sewer project. “I think the council and everybody who wants to see the project built is happy with these numbers.”

Councilman Bill Knobloch said he “breathed a huge sigh of relief” when the protests were tallied.

“The council went out on a limb with the community (on south-end sewers),” Knobloch said. “They assured us at the beginning that they had full community support, and we believed them. They were right.”

LIDs are used to fund public works projects that benefit specific neighborhoods rather than the island as a whole; the south-end sewer project would be the city’s eighth in the past 12 years.

Property owners in an LID are given annual assesments over the period of financing, typically 20 years, to repay debt assumed by the city to complete the work.

Individual assessments are based on benefit, predicated on the increase in property value an owner realizes when better utilities come to the neighborhood.

The “LID 20” project would bring sewer service to some 224 properties as well as Blakely Elementary School. School officials want to run a line down the hill from the campus to a planned sewer main, to end periodic septic problems there.

Current estimates show LID costs of $6,900 to $15,300 for properties that don’t hook up immediately; costs range from $20,000-$28,000 for that do.

Sewer service would be provided by the Kitsap County Sewer District No. 7 plant in Fort Ward, under an interlocal agreement with the city.

The City Council will take up the issue at this week’s meeting – briefly – with a fuller discussion expected at a future meeting.

But propoents continued to push for action this week.

“We asked the city to assist us in achieving better, more sanitary and liveable neighborhoods five years ago, and have persisted in seeking this goal,” Rockaway Beach resident Bill Gilbert wrote in a Nov. 9 correspondence to the council. “Please do not continue to tinker with the process by letting properties in or out of the LID and lowering protest requirements.”

Bill Cairns, a Point White sewer proponent, said he was “elated” at the paucity of protests, but also took took issue with the idea that some properties may yet be excluded from the LID. Sewer backers contend that would push up costs for others in the project, and could trigger a new round of hearings and protests.

“I think that would be tremendously unfair,” Cairns said.

With council go-ahead, public works would also need authorization for a contract for final project design. The project would go out to bid in late spring, with construction expected to begin next summer and completion in early autumn.

Depending on how soon they hire their own contractors to run service lines out to the main, some residents could be on sewer by the end of 2004, Public Works Director Randy Witt said.

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