The Freeland sewer project will live on.
A majority of the Freeland Water and Sewer District commissioners held firm Monday and decided not to freeze the project, but to move forward with vadose zone well testing. The board voted 2-1 to do the work; commissioners Eric Hansen and John Brunke cast yea votes, while Malzone voted nay.
Malzone withdrew his resolution to shelve the long-debated Phase 1A Freeland sewer project on the basis that it’s financially unfeasible, though the topic was discussed.
Hansen and Brunke said freezing the project would tell the state, a key funding partner, that the project is dead.
“Rather than put it on the shelf, I’d like to show continued movement on the project and do the vadose well testing on the site as recommended,” Hansen said. “From a strategy perspective, I don’t think we should stop work, because it sends a signal the project is dead. If I were going to find a list of projects to fund, I’m going to fund the ones that are charging ahead, not the ones sitting on the shelf.”
Brunke added he also supports continuing the well testing in order to find out if vadose wells will work for Freeland.
Malzone raised a range of concerns on top of overall expenses, including questioning engineering assumptions in a rate study and uncertainty over how much of the $3 million in requested state funding the district will receive. Malzone said he didn’t have enough confidence in estimates that the wells will last 12 years, the timeline used in the study. He thinks the estimation is optimistic, and is concerned that the ratepayers will foot the bill once the wells need to be replaced.
“I think it’s appropriate to think about delaying this or suspending it indefinitely because we don’t have the funding, and without the funding, I don’t see any avenue to proceed,” Malzone said. “We’re at the 90 percent design stage which seems like a logical place to pause.”
“If the rate study isn’t accurate, then it’s on the ratepayers to foot the bill.”
In the end, Hansen said suspending the project would be the project’s death sentence. He and Brunke agreed that the project has come too far to call it quits, after spending time and money on a treatment plant and a proposed site.
“If we suspend action on everything, we’re done,” Hansen said. “We’ve gone too far not to take that final step.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained several errors. Malzone withdrew his resolution to freeze the project, and the commissioners voted to green light the vadose zone well test. Also, Malzone said his concern was in the engineering assumptions used in the rate study and that it would be on ratepayers to foot the bill.