Freeland shopping center proposes to build sewage treatment facility

Owners of Freeland Plaza Shopping Center have submitted an application to replace the building’s septic system with a newer sewage treatment technology.

The proposed membrane bioreactor uses filtration processes with biological wastewater treatment processes to create effluent that is clean enough to be discharged into coastal or surface water.

“We want to do our part to clean up the environment as much as we can,” said Leroy Olsen, an associate with Isle West Properties, which owns Freeland Plaza.

“It’s hard to argue with cleaner water,” he added.

However, the comments on the project have not been entirely positive. Lou Malzone, commissioner for the Freeland Water and Sewer District, questioned the feasibility of the project.

“I don’t even know why the application was submitted,” Malzone said.

One of the methods of sewage treatment the district researched, before it halted all work on a sewer in Freeland earlier this year, included constructing a marine outfall into Holmes Harbor. He said the district’s inquiries about putting high-quality water into the harbor were only met with road blocks.

The proposed system for Freeland Plaza would discharge into soil that flows into Freeland Creek, which feeds into Holmes Harbor.

“The FWSD has had extensive discussions with the Department of Ecology on this disposal method and been informed that a permit to discharge to Holmes Harbor would not be approved,” Malzone wrote to the county planning director in his comments on the application.

The state departments of ecology and health, as well as county planning and health departments, are in the process of reviewing the application. Island County Planning Director Hiller West said the technology proposed for the plaza is different than what the sewer district had looked into. He said it’s possible that if it met state requirements, it might be permitted.

He said it will be another couple of weeks before the environmental determination is completed.

Malzone said because Holmes Harbor is classified as an “impaired” body of water, nothing can be discharged into it. He wrote in his comments it would be “inconceivable” that a permit to do so would be granted to a private sewage treatment facility.

“It’s never been allowed,” Malzone said in an interview. “And why it would be allowed for Freeland Plaza before the Freeland Water and Sewer District is a question I can’t even begin to fathom.”

Olsen is optimistic about the technology. He said he saw the membrane bioreactor in Germany and soon after started looking into implementing it in Freeland. The price of operating the system is significantly higher than its current traditional on-site system, but he said he felt the benefits outweigh the cost.

“We’re trying to produce cleaner water and release less of it into the environment,” Olsen said.

He proposes using the reclaimed water for landscaping and aquifer recharge. Another benefit of the new system is it would free up space on the property because of its small design.

The shopping center currently includes seven businesses, and Olsen said he’s been approached by other businesses asking about connecting to the system at some point if it is installed.

“It’s like turning lead into gold,” Olsen said, “except I actually believe in this.”

Public comment on the application can be submitted to Island County Planning and Community Development until Aug. 8.

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