Island County planners to ask for help on new Freeland population forecast

Island County commissioners will talk about the future population of Freeland at their work session today.

The amount of growth forecast for Freeland has been a bone of contention for opponents of the Freeland Water & Sewer District’s $40 million plan to install a sewer system that would serve an expanding Freeland.

Many residents say the plan is overpriced and oversized to serve a population that won’t exist, and that officials have not shown any proof for one of the main reasons given for the new sewer system — that septic systems in Freeland are failing and polluting Holmes Harbor.

Robert Pederson, director of Island County Planning and Community Development, said the department was seeking commissioners’ approval for a formal request to the state Office of Financial Management to work with the county on developing specific projections of future population for Freeland’s non-municipal urban growth area, or NMUGA.

The state issues a series of population projections every five years for local governments to use when updating their comprehensive plans, the long-range plans adopted by counties and cities that guide growth and development.

But despite the amount of growth planning that has been done for Freeland over the years, it does not have a specific population forecast that’s been set for the area. Instead, the future forecast for Freeland was pulled from the overall figures of population growth for South Whidbey.

The county set an expected 2020 population of the Freeland NMUGA at 4,000 people when officials adopted its comp plan in 1998 to guide development of the area. When the county updated Freeland’s growth plan, the population number used then was a high-range figure, one that “represents theoretical maximum buildout if every parcel was developed to its full potential within the NMUGA,” Pederson said.

Growth in Freeland has not lived up to the pace imagined more than a decade ago. The 2010 Census count for the Freeland NMUGA was 1,627.

County planners hope the state Office of Financial Management will take a closer look at what the population forecast for the Freeland NMUGA should be, but it’s something the state hasn’t done before.

“We’re making a big ask here,” Pederson said.

The request makes sense, however, given the recent focus on Freeland’s future population and the amount of infrastructure that homes and businesses south of Holmes Harbor will need in the future.

“A lot of the folks in Freeland who have been working on the sewer question ... have some concerns, and I think they are good concerns. The population projections that were looked at for the sewer planning processes were overly optimistic,” Pederson said.

The meeting starts at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 17, and the briefing on planning and community development issues is scheduled for 11 a.m.

County commissioners will begin by talking about the 2012 fee schedule for the Planning and Community Development Department.

Following that discussion, officials are expected to discuss working with the state to develop population forecasts for Freeland.

Commissioners will meet for their work session in the commissioners’ hearing room, Room B 102, in the Annex Building 1 NE Sixth St., Coupeville.

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