News

Freeland’s new sewers could cost $15 million

Hook-up charges could cost property owners from $6,400 to $284,400

BY BRIAN KELLY AND SPENCER WEBSTER

South Whidbey Record

FREELAND — A new sewer system for Freeland will cost $15 million, according to a consultant’s memo prepared last week for the Freeland Water and Sewer District.

Most of the money to pay for the project would come from Island County. The memo lists County Rural Sales Tax revenues as a source for $6 million of the money needed to build the sewer system. Other funding would come from a $1 million grant from the county and a $1 million Centennial Clean Water Fund grant from the state.

Most of the money needed to pay for the rest of the project would come from a low-interest Public Works Trust Fund loan.

According to the memo, the sewer district has been studying three options for financing the project over the next two decades. The options include raising millions of dollars in hook-up fees assessed to property owners, and creating a local improvement district where property owners would help share in the cost of creating the new sewer system.

Depending on the financing option that is eventually chosen, property owners in Freeland could pay connection charges ranging from $6,400 up to $284,400.

Connection charges would be based on the amount of treatment capacity needed by each property owner, measured by the equivalent of a residential home.

The sewer system’s biggest users would pay the highest sewer hook-up fees. Topping the list is China City ($284,400), followed by Island Athletic Club ($260,700), Pay-Less ($205,400) and Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, Inc. ($158,000).

Customers would also pay monthly maintenance-and-operation rates that would cost between $37 and $44 for each equivalent residential unit, starting in 2011.

Steve Shapiro, the owner of the Island Athletic Club, was pretty shocked when he heard rumors of what his connection fees might be. His view didn’t change when told of the connection charge for his property that was listed in the sewer memo.

“That’s absurd. We have a rather new, functioning septic system and if we had to pay that kind of money, we’d go out of business,” Shapiro said.

“That is a quarter million dollar hookup fee for no benefit, because we have a system that works fine,” he said.

Freeland Chamber of Commerce officials familiar with the report could not be reached for comment by presstime Friday morning.

Sewer district commissioners met earlier this week to talk about the study. District representatives also briefed county officials on the report later in the week.

The draft memo was prepared for the Freeland Water and Sewer District by Lindsey Consulting. Sewer district officials repeatedly refused to release the public document to The Record this week after the newspaper requested the memo under the state’s Open Records Act. The memo was later obtained from a different source.

Installing a new sewer system is a critical step in the urbanization of Freeland. Although county commissioners have approved a long-range growth plan for Freeland, the area cannot be developed under the plan until urban-style infrastructure — including the new wastewater treatment system — is in place to handle higher density development.

Island County Commissioner Phil Bakke said officials from the sewer district are expected to gather with city and county leaders at next month’s Council of Governments meeting to request their support on devoting rural sales tax revenues to the sewer project.

Bakke said many realize the new sewer system is the most pressing infrastructure project on the South End.

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