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Freeland seeks funding support for new sewer system

Project in line to get $6 million in sales taxes

COUPEVILLE — Freeland incorporation proponents left an Island County Council of Governments meeting Wednesday morning with smiles on their faces.

The reason? The Island County Council of Governments have expressed initial support for partial funding of Freeland’s new sewer system with the county’s rural sales tax.

Freeland Chamber of Commerce president Chet Ross traveled to Coupeville to determine the group’s level of support for new sewers in Freeland.

While the Freeland Water and Sewer District is still required to apply for the proposed $6 million in rural sales tax funds in August, County Commissioner Phil Bakke agreed to help draft the application and bring it to the next meeting.

“I’d like to work with Chet and get an application to the Council of Governments at the next meeting so we have something in writing. Not that we’re going to take action, but that expectations are clear for back payment of the bonding,” Bakke said.

An application for the rural tax funds by the Freeland Water and Sewer District could not be accepted until August and likely would not be considered until October.

That might mean too much lost time, said Ross.

“Right now, the sewer feasibility study is in draft form. We did pencil in the $1 million construction grant and the $300,000 per year for 20 years, knowing that we still have to come back to this body.”

“What we’re looking for today is if we could get an indication that this would be an acceptable project for the 2009 funds, that we could go ahead and leave that in the draft without having to make any adjustments to it,” Ross said.

The infrastructure project is precisely what the rural tax funds are for, said Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard.

“It sure sounds like to me this is exactly what this money is for. Frankly, we’ve been light on projects,” she said.

“I completely support the concept,” added Langley Mayor Paul Samuelson.

The Freeland Water and Sewer District’s draft sewer feasibility study proposed a number of different funding sources to pay the estimated $15 million cost of a new sewer system for the South End’s commercial hub. Other sources of potential revenue include a $1 million Centennial Clean Water Fund grant and a $1 million grant from Island County.

Included in the draft sewer fund plan is $6 million that would come from county sales taxes.

Bakke said the sales tax funds were designed to be used for infrastructure projects that would create economic growth. Freeland’s proposed sewer system fits that goal.

“Freeland is a non-municipal urban growth area and now we need to be stepping up to the plate and developing infrastructure,” Bakke said. “Sewers have been identified as the major part of infrastructure needed for Freeland and is really the hurdle that is holding back some of the economic development potentials in the Freeland area.”

Bakke recalled the obstacles in Freeland that he had seen while he was head of the county’s planning department.

“In my old job, that was a huge problem for business owners who maybe wanted to put in a restaurant,” he said. “They couldn’t do it because they didn’t have adequate septic disposal.”

Some also say that an expanded sewer system could lead to a cleaner Holmes Harbor. Shellfish harvesting has been banned in the harbor because of pollution.

“Nobody knows where the problem comes from, other than nitrates,” Ross said.

“One of the things I learned through all of this is that septic systems don’t remove nitrates, so as our population grows and the density gets greater, we’re more apt to have these problems continuing.”

Ross said the costs have climbed in the years since an expanded system was first proposed.

“We knew the numbers that were in the Freeland Sub Area Plan sewer project were done in 2003 and early 2004,” said Ross. “Those numbers for a number of reasons are obviously gone. I think we started out with $8.5 million, went to $10 million and on to

$15 million.”

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