BI wants to talk about fats, oil, grease

As comic Joan Rivers used to say, “Can we talk” about fats, oils and grease? Well, she didn’t say the last part but the city of Bainbridge Island is.

“I never thought I’d say this but it’s really exciting to talk about fats, oils and grease,” BI Councilmember Clarence Moriwaki quipped at the council meeting Feb. 20.

The council was talking about wastewater control and how fats, oils and grease build up in sewer lines. Public Works director Chris Wierzbicki said the city should look at options to pre-treat wastewater. He said it is common practice in other cities, and, “something we should consider.” He said such efforts could extend the life of the city’s wastewater treatment plant and reduce maintenance. That could postpone costly upgrades 10 to 15 years, he added. “There’s long-range and significant payback,” he said.

City documents say education outreach could start in June working with businesses.

Councilmember Ashley Mathews said why wait? “We could do more now,” she said, adding she pours baking soda on her wastewater at home to reduce the pH.

New state regulations also require the city to look at stormwater pollution.

City papers say it has until June 30 to make and comply with a plan to reduce runoff pollution, such as around dumpsters and parking lots, and vehicle and equipment washing. Best practices include: spill plan kits and training, sweeping pavement, covered dumpsters, utility sinks and grease interceptors.

Preliminary inventory shows 133 building sites and 100 food and drink establishments, with 20% needed to be inspected each year. Wierzbicki said there actually could be 250 to 350 sites that need to be managed. The work will protect streams, groundwater and Puget Sound.

There will be staffing needs, Wierzbicki said, that will need to be discussed during budget talks. “Some steps already are in place,” he said. “We will need to start ramping up this program pretty soon.”

Mayor Joe Deets said, “Getting to the source of pollution is essential for us.” He appreciates the state is passing environmental regulations, but asked if it is providing any funding.

City manager Blair King said the effort is an outgrowth of the Clean Water Act of 1972, and the short answer to Deets’ question is yes.

Springbrook Creek

Money was the key issue when the council discussed the Springbrook Creek Fish Passage on Fletcher Bay Road west of New Brooklyn Road.

The council had to decide if it would accept a $2.6 million federal grant when the cost to fix the problem is $6.4 million.

The city could get another $1 million in a state grant, but any more than that is not likely, documents say. The council talked about making up the difference with the Storm and Surface Water Fund.

King said he doubted the council would want to turn down the money, but if the council is uncomfortable having to possibly pay the difference, “We need to stop.”

Moriwaki and others said while they don’t want to stop the project, they also don’t want all the money to come from that fund. He said with all the storms BI has he could see money from the fund needed for repairs.

Councilmember Jon Quitslund said money in that fund needs to go to smaller projects like those “along our shorelines that have been neglected.”

Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos said it would not be responsible to clean out that fund for one project. She suggested also using the general fund. “We can’t strap it all on this fund,” she said.

Deets said while, “This is a very, very important environmental project,” the council needs to know what all of its options for funding are. He also wants to know what projects they might have to say “no” to if this is the top priority.

City documents say a concrete culvert and poor fish weir at the location are bad for the salmon-cutthroat spawning habitat area. Manzanita, along with Springbrook, are the two areas most important for salmon that need fixing. A buried concrete box structure will need to take its place. Wierzbicki said much of the cost of the fix will go to traffic mitigation as one side of the project will be done at a time to allow vehicles to keep using the busy road.

King explained that the storm drain fund paid by taxpayers is used to maintain culverts. The other half of the $5 million annually goes to nonoperating expenses. That would be for things like the Eagle Harbor Fish Passage project, and even new ones mentioned at that meeting, such as FOG and Manzanita.

“You will have adequate funds available, but you may need to curb your appetite for other projects” from this fund, King said. “We are very good at coming up with great ideas to spend money.”

Manzanita Watershed

The council also discussed state law that requires watersheds to be prioritized in a stormwater recovery plan. Law says there needs to be enough water in streams and rivers to protect fish and other resources. Manzanita is the highest rated on BI due to salmon, wetlands and groundwater recharge areas. Due to development, there has been streambed erosion, culvert issues, minor flooding and low flows in summer, documents say.

To recover streamflow, city papers say runoff needs to be mitigated on private property from roofs, driveways and lawns, along with on public property like roads and farmlands. A park at a cost of up to $1 million is one mitigation technique. As an example, the city showed a slide in a presentation of such a park in Silverdale that deals with 80 acres of runoff.

City water resource specialist Christian Berg explained the situation as he’s been leading the efforts for three years. “It’s my pandemic baby,” he said.

It was explained that a grant paid for a study on stormwater recharge projects. The stormwater management plan is part of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System where unmitigated stormwater is identified and ranked.

Berg said the top-rated project for a stormwater park is at the BI Natural Food Forest on Day Road. It scored highest due to its recharge capacity. It would treat runoff from 18 homes. Berg said a ditch currently catches runoff and sends it “where we don’t want it.” In the future, the ditch could be connected with a pipe to a stormwater park, “where an amazing amount of stormwater could be put back into the ground,” he said.

Hytopoulos said her only concern was contaminated stormwater going through the food forest on the way to the park. But Berg said the plants are upstream so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Groundwater plan

The council also received an update on the Groundwater Management Plan with goals to ensure clean and sufficient water, reduce climate change impacts and develop community understanding.

King said staff wanted to update work it has done in the past six months, and show progress made toward all three goals.

Wierzbicki said a groundwater model has been developed that looks at water usage and environmental conditions and aquifers and confining layers. They also have a better understanding of early warning levels such as stream and surface water impacts.

The public works director said there is something called the “One Water Plan” that incorporates planning for wastewater, stormwater, surface water, groundwater, etc., all at once. “We don’t have a One Water Program. I wish we did. Maybe someday we will. But we’re talking about all of those tonight. It’s as close as we come to looking at our water holistically.”