Freeland gets $2.7 million sewer grant

Freeland’s phase 1A sewer project received a $2.7 million shot in the arm last week.

The Island County commissioners on Tuesday, Sept. 13, officially and unanimously approved the Council of Government’s recommendation to award the money to the Freeland Water and Sewer District for its revised sewer project. The money comes from the rural economic development fund, commonly referred to as .09 funds.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson called the project “vitally important” and noted that the allotment was a big step toward funding the project, which she said would realize infrastructure improvements mandated by the state but lessen the tab to users.

“The idea is to get as much grant funding for this state mandated infrastructure… we want to make sure the cost to the individual property owners is as minimized as possible,” Price Johnson said.

Water district Commissioner Lou Malzone, president of the board, said the approval was great news and that the project still has a ways to go before it becomes a reality.

“It feels good but the project is still not affordable [to rate payers], Malzone said.

Phase 1A, which would bring sewers to a large portion of Freeland’s commercial area, is estimated to cost about $10.2 million. The district has already secured about $3.5 million in state grant funding. Combined with the $2.7 million from the county, that leaves a funding gap of about $5.05 million.

The district is hoping to secure an additional $3 million from the state, and has formally made the request to Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor. Malzone said he spoke with the lawmaker at a legislative community meeting in Freeland organized by The Record earlier this year and she said the infrastructure project was a top priority.

“At that meeting, she said funding for Freeland infrastructure was her number one priority” for area infrastructure projects, Malzone said.

“But that doesn’t mean she can wave a magic wand and get the money ready,” he added.

Malzone said he’s also been in contact with state Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, and state Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano.

Both Malzone and Price Johnson say bringing sewers to Freeland would be a boon to business. About 25 percent of applicable property is currently used for septic systems. Once sewers are in, that space could be developed into new commercial interests.

“There’s an opportunity here that’s just huge,” he said.

Price Johnson said there’s lots of “pent-up” interest from property owners and that some of the new development will no doubt be high density housing that will help address the housing shortage. This is something the community and all of South Whidbey needs, she said.

The county has done its part, she said, now it’s up to the state.

“We’re hoping now the state Legislature will help us close the deal,” Price Johnson said.