Funding for regional sewer unlikely in 2002

Published on Thu, Jun 21, 2001 by Meg Olson

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Funding for regional sewer unlikely in 2002

By Meg Olson

“The message we heard wasn’t no way, but it was close,” said city manager Gary Tomsic, reporting back to city council after a trip to Washington D.C. last week lobbying for sewer funding.

After spending four days in Washington meeting with members of the Washington congressional delegation and their staffs, Blaine mayor Dieter Schugt and Tomsic brought home faint hope of the 2002 federal budget allocating any money to move forward the Blaine/Birch Bay regional sewer plan.

“No one would go as far as saying it isn’t going to happen but they offered us no great encouragement,” Tomsic said. Both Christian Gunter of Representative Rick Larsen’s office and Anna Knudson from Senator Patty Murray’s office said the city had come into the budget process too late for the 2002 budget. “The more positive thing that we heard was this is a good project. There ought to be some federal help in the 2003 budget if we work on the funding balance,” Tomsic said.

Knudson told city representatives they were asking for too much from federal sources without a sufficient local match. “She felt the funding mix needed to be redone,” Tomsic said. “We were given a target of 55 or 50 percent local funds.”

The city’s original proposal asked for 75 percent federal support for the $30 million regional sewer project.

Finally, Tomsic said Murray staff members were concerned an agreement with the Lummi Nation had not been reached. Lummi representatives were in Washington, D.C. at the same time as Tomsic and Schugt but declined to meet jointly with congressional staff until the settlement agreement is completed. Tomsic said mediation on the settlement is progressing. “I believe we were generally able to support one another’s positions,” he said.

“I think our priorities are clear: we need to get the settlement with the Lummi done immediately and we need to beat every bush to see what’s out there for 2002. If we could get even a million for pre-design and design it could keep the project going while we look for funding,” Tomsic said.

Tomsic said both Larsen and Senator Maria Cantwell had given their support to interim funding for 2002 and a revised funding package for the whole project with more local and state match in 2003. The challenge will be in securing Murray’s backing for the project.

Murray’s support will be essential, Tomsic said, given her position on the Senate appropriations committee. “Senator Murray is recognized as a key player,” Tomsic said. “Representative Larsen may have to carry the water for us but her support is key.” City lobbying efforts in Washington will focus on getting some funding in 2002 to keep the project going and encouraging other members of the Washington delegation to push for Murray’s support.

“If this isn’t going to work, we aren’t interested in wasting a lot of time either, but my judgement at this point is that it’s not time to give up on this approach,” Tomsic said.

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