Housingstarts raising sewer capacity concerns

Published on Thu, Jul 28, 2005 by eg Olson

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Housing starts raising sewer capacity concerns

By Meg Olson

Record-breaking building starts are of equal parts concern and celebration when they’re paired with a debilitated and outdated sewer plant.

“One of the things we’re really watching is the impact on the wastewater units,” said city public works director Steve Banham at the July 11 Blaine city council meeting. With the development boom and the sewer system bust happening at the same time Banham and Blaine community development director Terry Galvin have started sharing the podium for quarterly development reports to council. “We’re looking pretty closely at where we stand from a capacity standpoint and trying to get the building permit process tied with the utility process,” Banham said.

Galvin reported the city was processing permits for developments that would create 536 proposed new lots in Blaine, adding 616 potential dwelling units to the city. In the first quarter of 2005 the city approved permits for 85 new units. “That’s a record,” he said. “We’ve not seen that kind of volume before.”

While in the past substantial new building had been confined to Semiahmoo, Galvin said there was now just as much activity across the harbor. “The distribution has started to change dramatically,” he said, pointing to a tight cluster of development applications around Montfort Park, including the 90 unit Dodd Street Station development. “That area is rapidly approaching full development buildout,” Galvin said. In east Blaine Doug Connelly has applied to build a 350 unit subdivision, and city figures aren’t counting the 600-700 unit project proposed by Blossom Development but not officially applied for yet.
Banham said the city’s November wastewater capacity report estimated the city had the capacity to serve approximately 350 more equivalent residential unit (ERU) wastewater connections with the old facility, based on recent improvements. So far, in 2005, there have been 31.2 new ERUs connected to the city system and another 80.8 are paid for but not yet hooked up. “The wastewater unit growth tends to lag a little behind the building permit activity,” he said.

From the audience, wastewater advisory committee member Trevor Hoskins said he wondered about the math. “With 536 proposed new units and 450 hookups left at some point we won’t be able to grant hookups,” he said.

Banham, however, said it’s just an issue of timing. The new $14 million Lighthouse Point wastewater treatment plant is anticipated to be in service by 2008 and initial city estimates had projected the city would see about 100 hookups per year, which existing capacity could handle until the new plant is online. “Our previous planning may have been a bit conservative,” Banham said.

If growth moves more quickly than a new sewer plant, Banham said the city could put operational changes in place that would fill the gap. “If growth continues at the rate we’re seeing now there’s a possibility we could put an equipment solution in place,” he said. “The idea is if we need to augment our existing plant it is an alternative.”