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Freeland’s sewer funding plan nets early opposition

A new sewer system in Freeland could become a case of many people paying for something only a few need, said several Freeland business owners.

According to the latest draft of the financial analysis for the new system, the project could cost $15 million. The high cost laid out in the plan prepared for the Freeland Water and Sewer District would be funded by a variety of sources, including $6 million in rural sales tax revenues from around the county.

Even with the sale tax revenues, the district will still need more money to pay for the sewer project. The funding plan calls for the Freeland’s business community to foot a large portion of those costs, which could prove contentious.

Hook-up fees for property owners who will be served by the new sewer range from $6,400 up to $284,400, according to the draft financial study.

Chuck Posey, who works as Frontier Building Supply’s general manager, did not see the estimated $7,900 fee to connect into the sewer system as a huge cost to the company.

“We’re not opposed to a sewer system. It just needs to be applied equally, based on use would probably be the most equitable way to do that,” Posey said.

“It doesn’t sound like that’s how they are going to do it. Some businesses are going to be hit more heavily even though their uses are lighter,” he said.

Posey said Frontier Building Supply would be required to connect into Freeland’s sewer system despite the fact that the county required the company to install a septic system.

“The county required us to put our septic system in and it was designed for our use and is perfectly adequate for our use. I think we’re paying for something we don’t need, but that can happen,” he said.

Up the street at Napa Auto Parts, owner Jim Price also sees the $7,900 price tag as a part of doing business in Freeland.

Even so, he said he is not happy about it and does not see the benefit of connecting to the new sewer system.

“It wouldn’t affect me at all. It would just cost me money and

I wouldn’t get anything out of it,” Price said.

“We have our own septic system. It kind of irritates me but then things change. I think it is a bad deal,” he said.

At first, Interstate Label owner Cliff Bjork was concerned that the sewer system was going to be bad deal for his business as well.

He was not expecting to be told his estimated hook-up fees would cost him around $23,000, the amount mentioned for his property in the draft study.

“I am surprised it’s only $23,000. My original estimate was going to be $250,000 because I thought they were going to charge by the acre or property value, to which I would have been vehemently opposed,” Bjork said.

Bjork said he’d long been opposed to the sewer plan because of its costly price.

“I have been opposed to the sewer plan for some time now based on the fact that it was going to be too expensive,” he said. “To say I am for it or against it, I need to read the proposal.”

A-OK Self Storage on Woodard Avenue would be charged nearly $200,000 for connecting to the system, though the buildings have only two toilets.

Former owner Terry Otey has been opposed to the sewer plan, and said it was too big and too ambitious.

“Over 20 years, if you have 1,000 people hooked up, that is an extra $60,000 plus for every hook up,” Otey said.

“There is no appreciable value. There are a handful of folks in Freeland, maybe 10 to 12 or less, who may well need sewer and they all own property and buildings. They want to spread the cost disproportionately amongst 100 different people or more.”

Some people don’t think the sewer system is needed because their drain fields are working well.

“There will be some challenges when people see the sticker shock,” he said.

Officials from the Freeland Water and Sewer District will head to Coupeville to make their pitch for getting the $6 million in tax revenues at the Council of Governments meeting today, said Island County Commissioner Phil Bakke.

The water district is hoping to get $300,000 per year in county sales tax revenues over the next 20 years. Bakke said it’s a good idea because the sewer project is the South End’s most pressing infrastructure project.

“As the South Whidbey commissioner, I support the $300,000 a year. I think it is appropriate,” Bakke said. “It is the leading project that will have the best bang for the buck when it comes economic development, but also for environmental protection of water quality resources.”

Bakke said he will support funneling the money to Freeland after the Council of Governments makes its recommendation.

“I think the other county commissioners recognize the opportunity here. I think they recognize that designating Freeland as an urban growth area, they will need sewers,” he said.

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or swebster@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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