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Deadline nears for $30 million Freeland sewer-grant application

Freeland sewer backers may know in August if they’ll get as much as $30 million from the federal government to build a new system.

“It’s not 100-percent certain, but it’s encouraging at this point,” Chet Ross, president of the Freeland Area Chamber of Commerce and a prime mover of the sewer plan, said Thursday.

Proponents and their consultants are pushing hard to meet a July 15 application deadline set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ross said.

The application will be submitted through the Freeland Water and Sewer District, which will oversee the project. The Freeland office of Davido Consulting Group is doing most of the preliminary engineering required for the application.

“The engineers are working feverishly,” Ross said. “We’re moving forward.”

He said a decision whether or not to award the grant is expected from the USDA by mid-August.

Ross said the plan, originally outlined in four phases, has been reconfigured to two, but still includes the same area.

He said Phase One would include 90 percent of the potential customers — all the commercial and most of the residential areas of Freeland — and that $30 million from the USDA should cover construction of both phases.

Gary Hess, engineer for the water and sewer district and a consultant with Davido, said recently that construction on the project could begin within two years, once funding is set.

Ross said the cost to individual customers to hook up to and maintain the system won’t be known until preliminary engineering is complete. A detailed engineering report must be submitted with the application.

“We hope to have that information available by July 15,” Ross said.

Proponents have worked for years to create a sewer system that would serve Freeland’s commercial core and surrounding residences, the center of economic activity on the South End.

A sewer system is a prerequisite for Freeland incorporation, another goal of the group.

The project, originally expected to cost about $38 million, has been slowed through the years by extensive planning, legal wrangling and a quest for elusive funding.

The water and sewer district currently encompasses about 1,050 acres, and serves 442 commercial and residential customers in the Freeland area.

The district already has moved ahead with property acquisition to accommodate an outfall for the sewer system and for a future sewage treatment plant.

Earlier this year, the district purchased 10 acres off Bush Point Road between Highway 525 and Mutiny Bay Road, for $275,000, using a grant from the state Department of Ecology.

The treatment plant would be installed in a building about the size of a large house. The water reclamation facility would have no outdoor ponds, and would be designed to be odor-free, engineers say.

In December, the district closed on 80 acres in the former Trillium Woods north of Freeland after the developer of the property forfeited to Shoreline Bank.

The sale price was $560,000, drawn from $2.5 million in Island County sales-tax revenues set aside for the Freeland sewer project as part of a rural development program.

The Whidbey Camano Land Trust is attempting to buy and preserve the remaining 664 acres of the property, the largest single-owner forest on Whidbey Island.

Ross said sewer proponents and consultants will provide a project update at another community meeting set for early next month.

The meeting will be at 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 6, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland. For more information, call Ross at 331-1980 or 331-4409, or the sewer district at 331-5566.

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