By Oliver Lazenby
How water has been supplied to Birch Bay residents has changed a lot in the past four decades. During that time, two districts merged to make the Birch Bay Water and Sewer District (BBWSD) and the population served by BBWSD doubled.
The district has had three general managers, held more than 900 regular meetings and taken on upgrades, repairs and public education programs to reduce water use.
Former commissioner Carl Reichhardt, 81, oversaw nearly all that. Reichhardt retired from the commission in August after serving BBWSD since January 1, 1978. He left in the middle of a six-year term and Jeff Benner filled his position.
“It’s time to get some fresh blood in there,” Reichhardt said. “I enjoyed it. I have an engineering background and I dealt with water and sewer all the time.”
Benner was appointed by the remaining commissioners and can run for the position in the November election to serve out the rest of a six-year term.
Benner is the district’s first new commissioner since 1997, when Patrick Alesse joined the board. The other commissioner, Don Montfort, started in 1994.
Reichhardt, a planning consultant and civil engineer by trade, brought knowledge about infrastructure and a willingness to dig into numbers and budgets to the council, said Sandi McMillan, district finance director.
“His attention to detail is amazing,” she said.
One of the biggest changes during Reichhardt’s time was a merger between districts 6 and 8 that created the current district (Reichhardt started as commissioner for district 6, which served the Point Whitehorn area).
That merger was certain to have taken a lot of work, said Dan Eisses, BBWSD general manager.
Reichhardt saw it differently.
“It was pretty easy. I just did my job as a commissioner and that’s the way I looked at it,” he said.
Reichhardt credit’s the district’s success at that time to former manager Roger Brown.
Reichhardt said it’s time for younger commissioners to take over. Eisses, who started working for the district 13 years ago, believes there are benefits to elected officials who stay on the job for decades. “I came in here and these guys had already been here 10 to 15 years and they explained to me how the district operates,” Eisses said. “Usually it’s the other way around with government. It’s not a bad thing going over the why and how with your elected officials, but when they’ve been around that long there’s a lot of efficiency to it.”
Making the district fiscally sound, maintaining low rates and high levels of service, was the district’s biggest accomplishment during his time, Reichhardt said. BBWSD won Department of Ecology outstanding wastewater treatment plant awards in 14 of Reichhardt’s last 17 years on the commission.
Reichhardt is still working on water issues at Reichhardt and Ebe, a Lynden-based engineering firm that he co-founded in 1993. Through that company, Reichhardt contracts with other water and sewer districts, and since retiring from the commission he has started contracting with BBWSD, Eisses said.
BBWSD stands out compared to other districts, Reichhardt said.
“That district is one of the best managed districts, and I deal with a lot of them,” Reichhardt said. “Every single staff member is top notch.”
The other commissioners have a variety of experience – Alesse is a small business owner and Montfort came to the district with experience at other water districts and on government boards.
New commissioner Benner works at BP Cherry Point in maintenance and brings some of the same skill set to the district as Reichhardt, Eisses said.
Reichhardt didn’t have a vote in appointing Benner to the commission, but he expects the district to do fine with the change.
“I think he’s going to be an excellent replacement,” Reichhardt said. “They need to have an orderly transition to new, younger commissioners and this is a great start.”