In Our Opinion: Don’t increase sewage plant costs with a bum deal

The sewage treatment plant in Oak Harbor continues to send money down the drain.

Oak Harbor city officials euphemistically named the $150-million campus of buildings that treats the stuff flushed down toilets the “Clean Water Facility” in an attempt to associate it with the crystal-clear water it produces.

Instead, the “Poop Palace,” as its called in some quarters, is associated with a flushing sound.

That’s money going down the drain.

Two years after the sewage treatment plant went online and five years after the groundbreaking, cost increases keep bubbling up. At this point, there’s not much city officials can do except make sure they don’t make things worse with more “penny wise, pound foolish” decisions or by negotiating a bad deal with the Navy for hooking the Seaplane Base into the plant.

The latest news is that the city needs to buy more membrane units for the membrane bioreactor plant to prevent another sewage spill like the one that happened when unrelenting rain caused local flooding in February. Limiting the number of membranes saved a lot of money in the short term but cost the city in the long term.

The cost estimate is $550,000.

In addition, the city has to spend more money to fix the smell problem. City leaders promised that some pricey technology would ensure that no bad odors would escape. That didn’t happen, at least not completely, because of problems with the drying process that a city official said was caused by attempts to cut costs. But city officials think they know how to fix the problem.

The cost may be as much as $100,000.

There’s more, unfortunately. This week a consultant said rates for wastewater treatment will need to increase from $100 a month to $130 over the next four years.

Despite the problems, the treatment plant has won multiple state and national awards related to conservation and excellence in public works. For those who prioritize the environment and can afford the rates, the plant can be seen as a triumph in green technology that protects salmon and orcas.

One thing is certain. The city should remain undaunted in negotiations with the Navy.

After asking for a quote, the Navy’s counteroffer was just a quarter of the dollar amount city officials and consultants said would cover the city’s real costs for treating Navy sewage and a share of the construction costs; most importantly, it puts a price tag on the decades that will be lost in the longevity of the plant because of increased use and the loss of capacity for city residents.

A former councilman said the Navy’s offer would mean residents would face even higher rates.

We urge the city to hold its ground with the Navy.

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