Regional sewer estimated to cost $32 million

Published on Thu, May 3, 2001 by Soren Velice

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Regional sewer estimated to cost $32 million

By Soren Velice

Since the summer of 1999, sewage treatment in Blaine has been up a creek without the proverbial paddle. The city may have found an oar, however, in the form of a draft feasibility study of a joint treatment program with the city and Birch Bay Water and Sewer District (BBWSD).

“After reflection, I decided the study should be released as a draft without an attempt to finalize it,” district general manager Roger Brown said. “It’s a conceptual thing being represented as a vehicle to secure funding; it behooves us to release it given that we’re going to ask for some kind of input.”

Discussions started between the city and the district after the city became mired in a bog of sewage woes. First came more than 35 discharge permit violations in less than five years; next, construction crews unearthed Lummi remains while attempting to assuage the sewage with treatment plant improvements in 1999.

After the city and BBWSD received the study from consultants Kennedy Jenks on April 20, the district drafted an outline for a memorandum of understanding to get the parties on the same page. “There are some pluses and there are some minuses,” Brown said. “What we have proposed to the city is we send them a memorandum of understanding that would govern how we proceed from this point forward.” The outline clarifies the roles of the two parties. “I think Birch Bay’s position is to cooperate with Blaine, not to drag them into this,” board member Carl Reichhardt said. One of the outline’s points says the city and district will seek funding together if the program proceeds; the board agreed showing up in Washington, D.C. together would likely be more successful than seeking funds individually.

Among the regional program’s benefits listed by Brown were improvements to water quality of Drayton Harbor and Semiahmoo Bay, opportunities to reclaim treated water for industrial use and recovery of some of the district’s recent investment to increase capacity. “Our ratepayers have paid for that,” Brown said. “If the city comes into our system, we would provide (the capacity) to them and they would pay for it.”

Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic said the main benefit would be the ability to handle growth in the area. “It has the potential for better serving a larger area without proliferating additional treatment plants or methodology,” he said. “From a planning standpoint it accommodates potential growth and environmental concerns better than the city building a separate facility and someone else having to build more.”

Brown cited some risks for the project as well. Among them were Blaine’s ability to pay its $21.9 million share of the $32.3 million in improvements; although the study proposes seeking state and federal grants for 75 percent of the cost, it states the city would have to restructure its debt service to accommodate new costs. “This project is not possible without 74 percent grant funding,” public works director Grant Stewart said. “We’ve got to come through with multi-year requests; there’s lots of opportunities to fall off-track.”

Another of Brown’s concerns is the city’s commercial waste. “The city’s influent is different from ours,” Brown said, “because they have significant industrial waste and we would want to make sure we could take it on without a negative impact to our system.”

Tomsic, however, said his main concern is the loss of direct control over facilities and operations. “There’s always the issue of how to handle less control,” he said. “Either when you’re directly cooperating or relying on someone for service, it forces you to develop a different kind of relationship to get things done; it doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad, but you somewhat lose control over costs and those kinds of things.”

The city will present the study and possibly an analysis of alternatives to the regional plan at a meeting Thursday May 3 at 6 p.m. in the council chamber. “The council is very interested in seeing the alternatives analysis before entering into a memorandum of understanding,” Stewart said. The four alternatives examined in the analysis include the regional plan, a $24 million system of constructed wetlands and ultraviolet disinfection similar to that in Arcata, California, building a new plant at the uplands between Birch Point and Semiahmoo Spit for $18.4 million and a $9.6 million tie-in to the greater Vancouver system by way of Surrey; although this option is much cheaper than the others, Stewart and Tomsic said it had severe drawbacks. “The regional plan has a lot going for it that makes it grant-fundable,” Stewart said, “and going to GVRD has none of that. If Blaine’s cost of $21 million was financed at 75 percent, Blaine’s cost would be $6 million; the cost to go to GVRD is $9 million.”

Stewart added the four alternatives in the analysis were filtered out from a list of about nine others. “I hope people in the community that would be outspoken understand we looked at a broader range of alternatives and narrowed it down to these,” he said.

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