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Clinton sewer raises concerns

"Sewer" is a dirty word to some Clinton residents.

Nearly 100 people gathered Wednesday night at the Clinton Progressive Hall to discuss the benefits and impact a sewer system would have on Clinton. Since the Clinton Water District commissioned a study of sewering much of its territory earlier this year, the issue has been up for discussion several times. This week's meeting drew the greatest amount of interest so far.

Of the dozen or so people who spoke up, the majority were concerned that a sewer system would bring more development and people to the area.

Mike Helland, manager of the water district, has spent the past few months trying to hear opinions such as this. Building a system is hardly a sure thing, so the meeting was a time for Clinton residents who may or may not benefit from a sewer system to speak out.

"The water district is not here to push a sewer system," Helland told Wednesday's big crowd. "We simply want to provide a public forum for residents to make their own decision."

Leading the meeting along with Helland was the district's consulting engineer, Tim Harrigan. Harrigan's Bellevue firm is in the midst of doing a comprehensive sewer study for the district. For the purpose of the study, the boundaries for a possible sewer district were set to include an estimated 500 residents within the Clinton Water District. The district currently has about water 700 hookups.

The cost of the plan is $60,000, $45,000 of which is funded by a grant and $15,000 of which comes from district coffers.

Harrigan said the boundary line in the study was drawn to include primarily smaller lots, where property owners have few options when dealing with failing or old septic systems. This includes the densely built areas along Columbia and Brighton beaches. Large, undeveloped pieces of acreage are generally not included within the boundary line.

It will be the people in these dense areas who will eventually decide whether or not Clinton has sewers, Helland said. With its sewer study, the water district is trying to give its residents something over which they can make that decision.

"Some home owners with failing systems are just hanging on wondering whether to invest in repairs of their septic systems or wait for the sewer," Helland said

Another concern that came up during the meeting was over the potential cost of a sewer system and the water treatment plant that would also need to be built. Helland and Harrigan did not provide any cost estimates, saying it was premature since the community has not approved incorporating a sewer district. They did say, however, that sewer district residents would pay for a sewer system through assessment charges and increased monthly bills. The costs, Helland said, would by high for some.

"It would effect some of our residents who are on a fixed income," he said.

One of the most vocal people at the meeting was water district resident Ken Ecklebarger. Clerk for the Holmes Harbor Sewer District in Freeland, Ecklebarger spoke from experience when he warned of the high costs involved in developing a sewer system.

"The proposed boundary is too small," Ecklebarger said. "Why don't you include all the residents in the the water district."

With a larger group of ratepayers, he said, assessments and sewer fees can be made more reasonable for individuals. Members of a smaller group, most of whom are used to paying nothing on a regular basis to use septic systems, would have trouble stomaching the cost to them of a sewer system, Ecklebarger said.

"You'll have a heart failure when you see your assessment and your monthly bills if you don't make it large enough to fund the project," he said, referencing the Holmes Harbor Sewer District.

Homeowners in that sewer district pay $58.33 a month for sewer service.

But there were some at the meeting who were supportive of developing a sewer system, or at least willing to listen to both sides of the argument. Mike Miller and his wife, both district residents, want sewers. They own property near the beach unsuitable for a septic system.

"We would like to build a home on the island," Miller said. "The property has been in my wife's family for 100 years, we would like to live on it."

Clinton resident Bob Effertz urged district residents to work together on the decision.

"This is a great opportunity to work together as a community without drawing lines even though we have differing opinions we can listen to each other," he said. "I am not convinced we need a system but I am keeping an open mind."

The sewer district expects to have a finished study in hand by early next year.

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