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Officials hope to land federal money for Freeland sewers

Officials of the Freeland Water and Sewer District are increasingly optimistic about their chances of landing federal stimulus funds to help pay for a new sewer system in Freeland.

Representatives from the sewer district met this week with Island County commissioners, and said there was a “full-court press” to complete an application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development funding program.

Gary Hess, engineer for the sewer district, said the consulting firm of Tetra Tech had been hired to help prepare the application.

“They’re working fast and furiously on getting all of our requirements together — the preliminary engineering report and the environmental report, public involvement and finance — all those pieces put together to complete our application package,” Hess said.

The sewer district faces a July 15 deadline.

“This is a really important milestone for us to hit,” Hess said, noting that prospects for future applications are slim to none for federal stimulus money.

“Their ability to fund us to a larger degree is now or never,” he said.

The proposed sewer system would serve the Freeland Non-Municipal Urban Growth Area, including downtown Freeland, the South End’s commercial core. The sewer district has already purchased an 80-acre piece of property formerly owned by the Trillium Corporation for the wastewater treatment project, a multi-phase effort that has been estimated to cost $38 million.

District officials have been talking for months about securing a

$30 million grant for the project from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and federal officials made a site visit to the property in February.

The sewer district is hosting a meeting next week in Freeland to talk about the sewer project. The meeting, the first of two, will include an update on the wastewater system proposal, a review of funding options, and a discussion about forming an LID, or local improvement district, to help with local funding.

The meeting is 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 8 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland.

Hess told county commissioners this week that a combination of grant and loan funding is expected to pay for the project.

“There will be a loan of some magnitude,” Hess said. “The payback for that will have to be through some secured funding stream in Freeland.”

The plan is to create an LID — comprised of property owners who benefit from the new sewer system and pay assessments — to help retire the debt on the project.

It’s too soon to say what the LID costs might be, Hess said, and that information may not be ready by the June 8 meeting.

“Even though that’s the first question out of everyone’s mouth: ‘What’s it going to cost me?’” Hess said.

“We’re trying to get there, but we don’t want to put information out that’s half-baked,” he added.

That information is expected to be ready by the second public meeting on July 6.

Appropriations for 2011 federal recovery funds are expected to be made Aug. 15, and sewer district representatives said there is already state and federal support for the project.

“They want this one to go,” Chet Ross, the sewer district’s point man on the project, told county commissioners.

The sewer system is expected to help clean up Holmes Harbor, which has been closed to shellfish harvesting since March 2006 because of pollution.

“We just can’t continue to go ahead with having septic systems in Freeland without ultimately, you know, larger problems in Holmes Harbor and in groundwater,” Hess said.

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