Damaged sewer lines should be top priority | Letters | July 31
July 31, 2009 · 9:51 AM
Mr. Lauen’s letter (“It’s best for community for lawsuit to disappear,” July 24) is at least right about one thing. Public health is the issue.
However, the most serious threat to public health and safety is the failing condition of the hundreds of feet of 30-year-old, disintegrating, iron sewer pipe along the Eagle Harbor shoreline.
We’ve already had four “failure spills” – one very public break and spill this year, and at least three others prior to the issuance of the 2008 engineering survey of the corroded shoreline pipe. Unless something is done quickly, more environment-degrading spills are sure to follow. The city may also face substantial monetary fines levied by state and federal government environmental protection agencies.
For the last four or five years, city policy-makers, management and professional staff have chosen to ignore this known and festering threat. They have instead focused city resources on replacing the sewer lines under Winslow Way. All studies done by the city indicate although the downtown lines are aging, they are not in imminent danger of unmanageable failure.
Despite the known, proven (and now public) risk of Eagle Harbor sewer-line failure, the city’s public-safety priorities continue to be ignored in favor of privileging the downtown redevelopment project.
Mr. Lauen suggested it would be best for the community if the Ratepayer Alliance lawsuit would disappear. I have read the pleadings, looked at the documentation and reviewed relevant engineering reports.
To be sure, they reveal a pattern of what could charitably be called cavalier management of the utility by the city. But, beyond this, the ratepayers have done a huge favor for the entire island in at least two ways.
They forced city officials to stop raiding the utility funds to cover up their long-term poor management of the city. It is now there for all to see and it will have to be dealt with. They also asked the city to follow its own ordinances and finally establish the independent citizen Utility Advisory Committee.
There can be no doubt. If the UAC had existed during these crucial years, the city’s general management failures would have been exposed sooner. With respect to the public health issue, the failing Eagle Harbor sewer lines would have been addressed already.
If the utility money hadn’t been used as a honey-pot to fund general city operations, the utility and the city would probably have had the money to fund Winslow Way utility upgrades as well.
Now, given city and utility budget realities, we cannot do it all. Intelligent, though difficult, choices must be made. Our new city manager was asked in the July 24 special City Council meeting whether the Winslow Way project could be delayed without losing the $5 million or so in transportation and street grants for this project
He told the council that if there were good reasons, he thought something could probably be worked out. Seems to me we should forthwith request such a delay, focus all city staff efforts, and apply all utility funds (above those essential for completing the sewer plant project) toward replacing the sewer lines in Eagle Harbor.
Once that is done, the city can return to the task of dealing with Winslow Way, if in fact that is the next highest public health and safety priority.