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Locals won’t pay all the costs | LETTER TO THE EDITOR
To the editor:
Two of the three commissioners serving the Freeland Water and Sewer District are running for election. As the third and only commissioner not on the ballot, I offer voters a few points for consideration.
Our roles as Freeland water district commissioners are relatively straightforward, and our service to the community is gratifying. While both the Freeland and Harbor Hills water systems still have significant sections of old pipe that must be replaced as funds are available, both systems are well-managed and in good condition.
In recent years, the district agreed to assist Island County by implementing the Freeland Subarea Plan. The subarea plan, developed by a Freeland citizens group over a period of about five years, established the framework for Freeland’s role as a non-municipal urban grown area (NMUGA). The concept behind this designation is that growth on Whidbey Island would be concentrated in specified areas (like Freeland) offering certain urban utility services rather than allowing sprawl throughout the island.
Introduction of a sewer to Freeland would certainly bring change, and there are many complex issues to be discussed. The district commissioners proceeded to implement the Freeland Subarea Plan, but also recognized there would be legitimate concerns with growth, cost, benefit and equity.
To address the engineering issues, we hired a qualified local engineering company to guide us in technical details and to manage a larger engineering effort. We applied for and received grants from the state and the county to pay for this work because we felt it was inappropriate for the water district customers to pay for implementation of a Freeland Subarea Plan.
Last year, we pursued a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that promised to fund much of Freeland’s sewer system.
To maximize our chances for success, we revised the project phasing to include much of the Freeland NMUGA in an initial phase and voted to hold a formation hearing for a Local Improvement District. Our resolution to form a Local Improvement District was intended to maximize our chances of obtaining grant money, as local support is always an important consideration for obtaining grants. We were not awarded the grant money, and the commissioners agreed we would not move forward with the project unless other substantial sources of grant money became available to fund the project. The formation hearing for the local improvement district has been postponed indefinitely.
The purpose of this letter is to assure Freeland residents that the Freeland Water and Sewer District commissioners never intended to saddle local landowners with anything close to the full cost of a $40 million sewer system, despite the suggestion on campaign signs, and we are optimistic that our citizens advisory committee will develop a more affordable proposal. The sewer system has never been something Freeland was expected to pay for by itself.