County sets hearing on Freeland sewer comp plan

Although the Board of Island County Commissioners is expected to give the green light on the sewer plan for Freeland, a lawsuit from a neighboring district has put a cloud over the new sewer system’s future.

Even so, the commissioners will review the plan and hear public comment on Feb. 6. The commissioners’ eventual stamp of approval will mean the Freeland Water District can form a sewer district.

First, though, Main Street Sewer System’s lawsuit against the new proposed wastewater treatment system must be resolved.

Main Street Sewer System already provides service to a senior housing development in Freeland, and is appealing the state’s approval of the Freeland Water District’s move to form a sewer district. The rub: Main Street says its system could be expanded to serve Freeland’s business core.

The alternative sewer system expansion under consideration by Island County has already cleared several hurdles. The state Department of Ecology and Department of Health issued “certificates of necessity” in August, which gave the Freeland Water District the legal permission to become a sewer district.

Commissioner Erl Bangston of the Main Street Sewer District has said the existing sewer system could be expanded to serve the Freeland business district. Main Street currently serves The Village at Maple Ridge, a 55-plus development of 41 condominiums.

The dispute has stalled development of an expanded sewer system in Freeland. Commissioners of the Freeland Water District had hoped to hire a consulting firm to determine the economic feasibility of implementing the county’s comprehensive plan for a sewer system in downtown Freeland, but those plans are on hold until sometime in 2006, while they wait for final decisions in the appeal process.

That pause for the court process may set the review of the new sewer system back by more than a year.

“I am disappointed by the delay,” said Chet Ross of the Freeland Chamber of Commerce.

Ross and other chamber members took the lead role in soliciting $60,000 in funds from commercial property owners to pay for a feasibility study for building a phased sewer system. Phase 1 encompasses the downtown business core from Scott Road to Cameron Avenue.

“We don’t know what will happen in court, but we hope the state will stand by its original ruling of issuing certificates of necessity to the water district,” Ross said.

“This sets back our feasibility study by 18 months,” he said.

“Once a feasibility study is completed it will be presented to the property owners in Phase I. In order to proceed beyond that point, 60 percent of the assessed valuation must approve it,” Ross said.

Commissioners of the Freeland Water District approved the plan on Sept. 15. The plan has also been approved by the Island County Health Department and by the county public works department.

“I am guardedly optimistic about the outcome of the state hearings,” said Gary Hess, an engineer with public works.

Hearings are set for next year.

The comprehensive sewer plan was developed in tandem with the Freeland Comprehensive Plan, which is a customized land-use plan for Freeland. Beginning in January 1999, a group of nine volunteers appointed by the commissioners held 76 public meetings to develop a comprehensive plan for Freeland.

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