Island County commissioners lacking faith in Freeland sewer board

The Island County Board of Commissioners responded with skepticism Wednesday to a request for funding from the Freeland Water and Sewer district.

The sewer district’s leadership wants to bring a sewer system to Freeland.

County commissioners Helen Price Johnson and Jill Johnson acknowledged the importance of the project, but expressed doubts that the district is taking enough responsibility to complete it.

“I want to make sure this gets done, and my confidence is a at negative eight lately,” said Johnson at the meeting.

Commissioner Rick Hannold said he doubts a sewer will ever become a reality for Freeland. He questioned the district’s desire for it to happen in the first place.

“I have no confidence whatsoever…” Hannold said. “It seems to me that they don’t want this to go in, because they find every single ‘I can’t do’ about this step that they possibly can, and forgive me for saying it in public.”

“I don’t care; that’s the way it is.”

The district received $1.5 million from the state for completion of a wastewater outfall, but that left a $1.5 million funding gap for the project. Lou Malzone, president and commissioner of the sewer district, said in an email last week to the county budget director the sewer project was suspended pending a solution for the treated wastewater disposal.

Malzone said in the email he had previously presented to the county council of governments that, “if funding was not available from the state, the county would have to make up the difference, even if on an annual allocation basis.”

Price Johnson said during the meeting that the county agreed to partner with the district, but she found the wording of the email “concerning.”

“It’s their project,” she said. “They are the elected officials who have this responsibility and actually they asked for this responsibility to provide this sewer.”

Another email from Malzone addressed to county Public Works Director Bill Oakes said the sewer district commissioners were under the impression he would be pursuing a permit for the wastewater outfall at Robinson Beach.

Oakes said in an interview that he was working on permitting a stormwater outfall at that location but a wastewater one would be under the Public Health Department’s direction.

“I haven’t a clue how that would get permitted,” Oakes said. “I’ve never permitted a wastewater outfall.”

Hannold cited a lack of communication between the district and county as one of the sources of his frustration with the project.

“They’re not very open with their portrayal of the facts,” he said in an interview.

He saw the delays on the project as evidence the district did not really want to move forward. He hypothesized the water and sewer district commissioners did not “want to be the ones to tell their citizens it’s going to cost them money to have sewer” and that many people in the community don’t want more development in the area.

“They’re paying lip service to the community,” he said.

Asked to respond to commissioner comments at the meeting, Malzone said in an email, “I will not talk about the leadership of the FWSD (Freeland Water and Sewer District) except at a public meeting with all three Commissioners present.”

Johnson and Price Johnson said at the meeting that the sewer project is necessary for Freeland because it is designated a non-municipal urban growth area.

The zoning allows for greater density in it’s planned growth, provided there are urban sewer services available.

Price Johnson pointed out that, although she is frustrated with the district too, Freeland is a part of Island County and therefore the county is compelled to provide urban services to it.

Johnson said she agrees.

“A consequence is, is there’s no growth in Freeland,” Johnson said in response to Hannold’s doubt of the feasibility of the project. “I’m not ever going to tell a community they can’t grow.”