Fearing undesired growth, BI delays Lynwood sewer decision

Fearing undesired growth, the Bainbridge Island City Council was apprehensive about the city’s ask to add 25 sewer connections to the south end of BI.

During a lengthy debate, the council said it doesn’t want commercial or even single-family residential growth in Lynwood Center. It did show interest in having sewer available for homes already there that have failing septic systems.

“Commercial is deprioritized,” Public Works director Chris Wierzbicki said at the council meeting Oct. 17. He gave the council an update on South Island Sewer Wastewater Treatment negotiations with Kitsap County Sewer District 7. The system was constructed in the early 2000s with BI owning the collection and pumping systems, with the sewer district providing wastewater treatment. The agreement limits connections to 480. About 350 are connected, with 130 in reserve.

In spring of 2022, the council asked city staff to negotiate with the district for more sewer capacity. Negotiations have led to a possible 25 more, which likely would last five years. Priority would go to: existing residence with septic emergency or one with old septic; two or more affordable multi-family units or multi-family units; new single-family unit; and new commercial use.

City Councilmember Clarence Moriwaki said, “The slide with priorities; that’s sensible to me.”

But deputy mayor Kirsten Hytopoulos said the issue is a snapshot of all the issues the city is working on. “Everything we’re doing is merging right here,” she said. “What a Pandora’s Box we’re opening. I hope everyone knows what we’re voting for if we open that box.”

She said traditional planning for sewer is to add as many as possible. “Septic bad, sewer good,” she said. But this system was set up because septics were failing in an affordable area on BI. “It was created for a very limited purpose,” she said.

Since Lynwood Center is a growth area, she said she could see new sewer connections only with affordable housing. But in general, Hytopoulos said she doesn’t want to change policy there. “Do we want to enlarge sewer on the island?” she asked. “Septics keep our groundwater on the island and out of the Sound. Why would we expand sewer if septic is an option? Do you want to change it? I don’t.”

Councilmember Michael Pollock also had concerns about groundwater recharge not taking place due to sewer, and also pollutants in the sewage that go into Puget Sound. “A number of things are not getting removed that are hazardous to whales,” he said, adding to get a sewer hookup it needs to be for the public good.

Councilmember Joe Deets agreed, adding there also should be an environmental benefit. He asked city staff to come back with answers on how the sewage hookups fit with city goals.

Mayor Brenda Fantroy-Johnson said she wants staff to come back and better explain how prioritization would take place.

Councilmember Jon Quitslund said the council wasn’t really prepared for the discussion. He felt the entire package should first go to the Utility Advisory Committee. He also said growth in the Comp Plan for Lynwood Center would need to be a factor at some point.

City manager Blair King reminded the council that it asked staff to look into this. “Is 25 an acceptable number? If not what is the number or is there no number at all?”

Wierzbicki said the current law is hard to enforce because it contradicts itself. He’d like to replace it with something similar but more easily administered.

Sewer district commissioner Sarah Lee said BI is one of its biggest customers. She said it got involved years ago after the Lynwood Center septic treatment plant failed. It started with 80 hookups then added more when septics at Emerald Heights failed. “Rockaway Beach had some very spectacular fails as well.”