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Clean water spending in Island County questioned

During a Wednesday work session, Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson questioned how money collected through the county’s clean water utility is used.

Johnson said she wanted to see more of the dollars raised go toward projects and less spent on studying the conditions in Island County.

“I think the community has an expectation for results,” Johnson said, noting that the county has about $500,000 available from the clean water utility for capital projects.

Island County in 2012 collected $1.46 million through the clean water utility, which is funded by a fee property owners pay.

The owner of a residential lot will pay a $39.13 bill that will appear on their property tax statement. An owner of agricultural property will pay $29.35.

The fee pays for the county’s surface water monitoring efforts, Island County Critical Areas Ordinance code compliance, on-site sewer inspection and monitoring and the hydrogeology program.

Public Works Director Bill Oakes presented a prioritized list of projects that would repair the outfalls at several problem spots throughout Island County.

That list accounted for approximately $3 million in projects on the two islands. However, Oakes said his staff identified $10 million in needed water quality projects.

“Our systems are getting very old and we need to start replacing them,” Oakes said after the meeting.

County officials are hoping to get one of those projects off the ground this year. An outfall on Maxwelton Road isn’t functioning. Pending state and federal permits, they hope to undertake a $900,000 project to replace a tide gate, trunk drain and install a pump station. Oakes said the area is prone to winter flooding and the outfall has failed.

Other drainage projects on the county’s wish list in the coming years will take place on Camano Island, Palmer Court, the Maxwelton Road north outfall and Mutiny Bay.

Johnson noted that a significant amount of the money raised through the clean water utility goes toward monitoring.

“When do we switch from understanding to finding solutions?” she asked.

Keith Higman, county health director, noted that Whidbey Island has a dynamic environment and water monitoring efforts will continue. Oakes said staff is required by county code to provide a yearly update of the clean water utility.

 

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