Marine Drive slated for sewage tank

Published on Thu, Jul 26, 2001 by Meg Olson

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Marine Drive slated for sewage tank

By Meg Olson

Despite posters, flyers and press releases, the public meeting on proposed near-term changes to Blaine’s sewer system drew more city staffers and council members than local residents. Those who did attend appeared more concerned with getting Blaine’s sewer problems solved quickly than with how the city does it.

“Whatever it takes, we need to fix it,” said Tom Cullen.

Consultants Jim Santroch and Jeff Lykken of Tetra Tech/KCM described alternatives to solve the city’s most pressing sewage problems: overflows on Marine Drive and a crumbling sewage treatment plant. “Blaine saw this coming in the early 1990s,” Santroch said.

Despite almost a decade of trying to stop stormwater from flooding downtown sewers during winter storms and planning for a new sewer treatment plant, the city still suffers from overflows and the discovery of American Indian burials at the foot of Semiahmoo spit has permanently shelved plans for a new plant there.

“The city’s two main strategies – fix the leaks and build a new plant - are discontinued now,” Santroch said.

The facilities plan now being developed would provide a ten-year solution while a regional sewer system with Birch Bay or another long-term solution was being developed and funded. “Buy time, maintain what you’ve got, do some upgrades and control overflows,” were Santroch’s near-term recommendations.

However, he said the trick was to save the city money by making quick fixes that have lasting value. “It’s got to work now but we don’t want to waste money,” he said.

Underground storage to hold peak flows is the proposed solution to the overflow problem. In the kind of winter storm that hit Blaine every ten years, downtown Blaine’s wastewater flow jumps from 500 gallons per minute to over 2,500 and then subsides in a few hours.

Pumps at lift station one that take the flow to the Semiahmoo plant for treatment can handle 1,200 gallons per minute, and what they can’t pump now backs up into the harbor. “If we can cut off that peak we can get through the storm without a bigger pump or a new treatment plant,” Santroch said. “It’s not just a Blaine strategy. Flow storage is a common strategy to cut down peaks and make your system more efficient.”

Consultants have decided 1,070 feet of eight-foot diameter pipe laid underneath Marine Drive is the preferred alternative for the 700,000 gallons of storage needed to contain peak flows. “There was sort of a feeling that, we have the lift station there, let’s keep it there,” said Holly O’Neill, who is coordinating public input on the project.

“The hope is that putting storage under Marine Drive would serve as a catalyst for road improvements,” said public works director Grant Stewart. “We could pair our number two transportation priority with our number one wastewater project.”

Jan Hansen asked if the $3.8 million the city would invest in the storage tank would only serve the city until a new sewer system was developed. “A storage tank and a revitalized pump station would have continued life,” Stewart said. “All the plumbing in Blaine comes to that point.”

While upgrades to the existing sewage treatment plant would not have similar long-term value, Santroch said they were urgently needed. “People who work with sewage say going into that building is one of the worst they’ve ever been in – the odor is horrific,” he said.

Sludge building up in a dead-end compartment continues to produce gases that corrode metal and concrete, eating away at the plant from the inside. Santroch said when staff cut into the dead-end compartment, the inside first inches of concrete “scooped away like ice cream,” and screens that remove grit from the waste flow have crumbled. “They were deferring maintenance, banking on a new plant,” he said.

The most pressing need is to repair or replace the headworks, which screen the flow, and add grease and grit removal to lighten the load on the plant. Options included putting new pre-built headworks at lift station one in an underground vault or setting them above ground at the existing plant, but there was concern that both of these would cost more and be less feasible than just fixing the existing headworks. “I was told by the people at the plant that they couldn’t even put a shovel in the ground because of the Lummi burial. How are you going to put something new there?” asked Sylvia Press, whose Semiahmoo home overlooks the treatment plant.
Consultants will come back with an analysis of the preferred alternative – storage under Marine Drive and repairs to the existing plant – at another public meeting next month. Once all the project permits are in place and an environmental assessment prepared, expected in early 2002, there will be a final public meeting.

Geoff Menzies, president of the Drayton Harbor Shellfish Protection Advisory Committee asked how this project would dovetail with other sewer improvements designed to accommodate growth as well as current problems.

One proposal, dubbed the Loomis Diversion, is to take some of Blaine’s sewage to Birch Bay Water and Sewer District (BBWSD) now, by laying sewage pipe in the trench to be dug for the city’s electrical express feeder project and connecting it to BBWSD Loomis lift station. Santroch said the hope is that the diversion will handle increased flow from growth, which the storage tank is not being designed for. “We didn’t pick the size of the storage tank for the best or the worst case scenarios,” he said. “The way we were planning to accommodate growth was with the diversion.”
Menzies asked if the city planned to continue accepting new hookups to the overloaded system, and Stewart said yes.

“There are a whole smattering of programs that all move forward together,” he said. “What we’re trying to achieve with this is compliance with federal regulations so we can qualify for the federal funding we need to do the job.”

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