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It’s dejá vu all over again for Freeland sewers

Freeland Water and Sewer District Commissions indicated they may look again at using the neighboring Holmes Harbor Sewer District’s treatment facility to help lower the cost of a new Freeland sewer system.

“I think we should reevaluate it,” said Rocky Knickerbocker, commission chairman of the Freeland district. “There’ve been a lot of questions about it.”

The discussion arose Monday at a Freeland district commission meeting at the Freeland Library, attended by about a dozen property owners seeking clarification of plans for a future sewer system in Freeland.

The Freeland district hopes to form a local improvement district (LID) composed of property owners who would be assessed for the new system, estimated to cost nearly $40 million to install sewers in the downtown commercial core and surrounding residential area.

Several property owners have strongly opposed the proposal because of the cost, estimated variously and unofficially between $20,000 to $90,000 per parcel.

Gary Hess, Freeland district engineer, said the possibility of tapping into Holmes Harbor’s system was studied in 2003-04, in the earliest stages of Freeland sewer planning.

Hess acknowledged that the Holmes Harbor system has excess capacity that could be used by Freeland to possibly lower costs. But he said the initial study concluded it would cost too much to pump Freeland sewage to the Holmes Harbor treatment plant, which is 250 feet higher in elevation.

And he said that in any case, Holmes Harbor’s excess capacity is earmarked for eventual expansion of the Holmes Harbor community.

“We can’t just go and take that capacity,” Hess said.

“It can be done,” Hess added of the proposal to use the Holmes Harbor facility. “But we looked at it in quite a bit of detail. It didn’t pencil out then, and I’m sure costs haven’t gone down.”

The bulk of Monday’s meeting, however, was given over to questions about the proposed Freeland sewer system, some raised before, others apparently new.

Property owner Al Peyser, who estimates LID costs could be as much as $70,000 per parcel, urged the water and sewer commission to expand from three to five members to guarantee a more balanced discussion of the sewer issue.

He also said the estimated assessments have been based on an outdated zoning map, that all consulting work should be halted until updated information is available, that selection of future commissioners be made by customers of the district and that the commissioners make no further moves without approval of those customers.

Peyser likened the proposed sewer system to building an expensive house without knowing how much it will cost, and by counting on money from your uncle (in the form of state and federal grants) that may or may not materialize.

“Consider the people of Freeland, and don’t commit to something where the cost is unknown,” Peyser said.

Mitchell Streicher, long involved in Freeland planning, said many property owners are “agitated,” and that a drive is on to gather signatures against forming an LID.

“If 40 people go door-to-door and collect five signatures each, it can halt the whole thing,” Streicher said. “You may vote it in, but it’s not going to happen — wake up.”

He said recent neighborhood meetings have shown that “there’s unanimity of not wanting sewers at the present price.”

“I don’t either, Mitchell,” Knickerbocker replied.

Commissioners said they would continue to seek state and federal grants to cover some of the costs.

Chet Ross, president of the Greater Freeland Chamber of Commerce and a strong sewer proponent, agreed a Freeland sewer system may never materialize without grants and low-cost loans.

“As it stands now, it will never fly,” Ross said. But he said he remains confident financial help will become available.

Meanwhile, commissioners agreed that another public meeting be held in April to try to clarify “misconceptions” about the sewer plan.

“We’re seriously listening to your issues,” said Commissioner Eric Hansen. “We may not change anybody’s mind, but we can at least get the information out there.”

Supporters of a new sewer system have said it will help clean up pollution in Holmes Harbor, and would allow greater growth in Freeland, including incorporation as a city.

A public hearing on a proposed LID is scheduled for May 24.

The district plans to send notices to property owners before the hearing that will set out what the costs will be to each property.

Preliminary estimates of LID assessments are also expected to be released during two open houses, planned for May 10 and May 17. The actual amount of the assessments may not be determined until after the LID is formed, officials said.

Assessment costs may change if there are cost overruns, or if the project comes in under budget. The amount of grant money received will also affect the size of assessments.

District commissioners are expected to vote on May 24 on a resolution to form the LID, which would be followed by a 10-day period where property owners can submit formal protests to the LID.

If owners of 40 percent of the land within the LID protest, the LID can’t be formed.

Commissioners said they would add Monday’s comments to a list of frequently asked questions available on the district website at http://www.freelandwsd.com.

 

 

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