In with sewer, out with old septic system

Ah, democracy in action.

A week ago, it appeared that Scott Taylor, who owns and lives on about two acres of land bordering Ferncliff Avenue and the city’s northern boundary of its sewer system, would be denied his three-year attempt to replace a failed septic system with a sewer connection. During a City Council meeting on the matter, Public Works Director Randy Witt reiterated his department’s decision to deny Taylor’s request despite strong opposition by council members Kim Brackett and Bill Knobloch.

Among other reasons, Witt argued that Taylor’s situation was not an emergency and the city wanted to develop sewer in the area in a “planned, controlled manner” and didn’t want to establish a precedent that would lead to similar “spaghetti line” connections. Two other septic systems in the area have also failed, and Taylor and several surrounding property owners applied earlier this year for inclusion in the sewer service area.

Plus, the city has generally discouraged sewer system inclusion to properties downhill from the ridge sloping eastward to Puget Sound because of the cost of pumping the sewage uphill.

Knobloch disagreed with the “precedence” argument, saying that there have been exceptions because minor modifications to sewer boundaries are allowable. Brackett’s motion to return the matter to the Public Works and Transportation Committee, of which she is a member, was passed by the council.

Taylor’s argument included the fact that Kitsap County Health Department has been pressing Taylor to resolve the matter. The county said in a letter that it considered it a legal “requirement” by the city to connect to a house within 200 feet of a public sewer system. (Taylor’s is about 120 feet).

Taylor, who would incur all expenses for the hookup, said the situation is an “emergency” for him and would cost him about $30,000 to put in a new septic system in an area that the city may eventually add to its sewer system. He added that he would agree not to seek another connection if the land were subdivided, which he said probably wouldn’t occur because nearly half of it is a wetland.

Still, Witt wouldn’t bend, at least until Monday’s PWTC meeting.

From the beginning, it was clear that Brackett and committee chair Kjell Stoknes had done their homework. Stoknes set about establishing pertinent “findings of fact” concerning the matter, and Brackett revealed that placing a septic system in close proximity to a environmentally sensitive area – a large wetland, in Taylor’s case – is inconsistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.

In other words, as the county health department had already surmised, the property is unsuitable for an onsite septic system and adding it to the existing sewer system is the best option available. And Witt eventually dropped his objection once it was clear the committee members – including councilor Chris Snow – believed the “sensitive” water criteria had been met.

The remainder of the meeting involved including the findings of fact in a motion and making sure that Taylor would be legally bound to only one connection, at least until the area were added to the city’s sewer system. The matter was then sent back to the full council.

The entire exercise was an intriguing look at the way council and staff interact. It was also a glimpse of the imminent future of the island, which, at least in the more densely populated areas, eventually will be predominantly served by the city’s sewer system. The other half of the committee meeting dealt with the proposed LID in the Pt. Monroe and Lafayette Avenue area, which, thanks to the state deciding to install a sewer system at Fay Bainbridge State Park for environmental purposes, may soon become a reality.

The move toward a more comprehensive sewer system is inevitable and especially welcome on an island with several watersheds that empty into the Puget Sound. It will be costly, but money well spent.

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