No sewer without water, district says

Published on Thu, Mar 7, 2002
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No sewer without water, district says

While a mid-February lobbying trip to Washington, D.C. may have increased the chances of a federal appropriation for a regional sewer plan, the Birch Bay Water and Sewer District (BBWSD) is considering putting the brakes on the project until they have a water contract with the city.

“The discussions on wastewater are moving positively, they’ve got some real momentum,” said district manager Roger Brown at the February 28 commissioners meeting. “We’ve always said we need to know where the water’s coming from, both for our growth and theirs, before that proceeds.”

Blaine city officials have generally kept the two issues separate in public discussions of sewer and water issues. In city manager Gary Tomsic’s presentation to council after the lobbying trip, and in the project lobby paper presented on the trip, the Birch Bay water question was not mentioned. Rather, the project is described as an integration of the regional sewer project with the Lummi Nation project to build a memorial park where the city’s Semiahmoo treatment plant is today.

“The project has benefits much greater than a little town trying to score more dollars for a sewer,” Tomsic told city council February 22. “It’s also bigger than the Lummi coming asking for money for a memorial. Out of a terrible experience for both of us came a project that has benefits for our community, the state and beyond.” Tomsic cited far reaching benefits for water quality and economic sustainability for the region if the city’s wastewater problems are solved.

The city is looking for an $8 million appropriation in 2003 to get the project rolling and additional funding in future years. Tomsic said their reception in Washington D.C. this year was very positive, and city council voted to hire a lobbyist to continue to make the city’s case during this legislative session. “This cost the city a fair amount of change over time – we’ll probably spend $50,000 in the next six months,” Tomsic said.
Following the February 22 meeting, council went into executive session to discuss the BBWSD water contract, and mayor Dieter Schugt said he did not expect council to take action.

BBWSD commissioners want the water contract on the same fast-track as the regional sewer plans. The district’s official resolution to collaborate with the city on a regional wastewater system, adopted in August 2000, stipulated that “wastewater growth planning must be consistent with water availability.” In May 2001, the city agreed to the terms of the resolution in a memorandum of agreement.

“Those weren’t priorities. Those were conditions,’ said commissioner Don Montfort, who suggested a letter be written to the city to clarify the district’s position on the regional sewer. “The letter would point out the need to address water issues before that process goes forward,” he said.
Brown and district attorney Robert Carmichael said progress in water contract negotiations had been slow. “They did bring in some new issues, one a very large one, and at a late date. For us that’s a problem,” Brown said. “I think there’s a misconception about how close we are to an agreement,“ Carmichael said. “Based on where we were last time, we’re pretty far apart.”.

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