Monday, January 22, 2007

O.S., county talk about sewer, water for N. Beach

By Jordan Kline - Daily World writer
Thursday, January 18, 2007 10:53 AM PST

OCEAN SHORES — The City of Ocean Shores and Grays Harbor County officials are looking for a way to bring sewer service to residents just north of Ocean Shores and to improve the water system in the area.

Talks between the city and county reopened this week. One project would extend the city’s sewer system to Illahee and Oyehut, two unincorporated areas immediately north of the city limits.

The other would bring water from a new, high-quality and potentially high-yield county well to residents from the city limits north to Hogan’s Corner.

The county views the sewer project as essential to developing the North Beach. If the City of Ocean Shores’ can’t arrive at a financing package property owners agree to, it would force the county to build a sewer system strictly for the areas of Illahee and Oyehut, which would cost millions more.

The sewer system extension has been discussed for years, but had been in limbo since 2004, when the Ocean Shores City Council tabled a resolution that would have put construction in motion.

“The issue of parity came up,” said Acting City Manager Rich McEachin at a public meeting held Tuesday at the Lions Club in Ocean Shores, “and nobody could agree on how much people in Illahee and Oyehut should pay for the project.”

The city developed a Local Improvement District. To form the district, a study has to find that property owners see an increase in value at least equaling the additional fees. At that time, the project would have cost $1.4 million — an average of $9,437 per parcel.
But according to McEachin, some councilmen didn’t think that was fair to Ocean Shores residents, who pay rates to the city and pay for treatment projects through a property tax levy. But the city has no taxing authority in the unincorporated areas, so it wanted to charge residents of Illahee and Oyehut 184 percent of what Ocean Shores residents pay for water in order to make up the difference.

“(Residents of Oyehut and Illahee would pay) the same as us, it’ll just be in their monthly fee, not in their property tax. ... But no one could really agree,” McEachin said, and the issue was dropped, despite having the project’s engineering, right-of-ways and the LID assessment completed.

Building freezeAs a result, Oyehut and Illahee residents can’t get building permits thanks to outdated septic systems, many of which are leaking into creeks and wetlands. Development is at a standstill until these areas get sewers.“I can’t get the building permits to renovate my house,” said Oyehut resident Belinda Hayes. “They tell me because I’m on a septic tank, I can’t build unless I buy a brand new tank or we get sewer lines.”

County Commissioner Al Carter told the audience at the public meeting that he’s been working on the project since he took office in 2003, and that the sewer project was one of his priorities.“Infrastructure is the key, and water, sewer, and roads are what drives the economy. It’s imperative that we get these houses hooked up somehow,” he said.

Will to move forward
At a study session with county officials on Wednesday, City Council members said the disagreement on financing is gone.
“I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be able to walk through this process and get it going,” said Councilman Dave Creighton. “We’ve got people at the table now who want to move forward.
Public Works Director Ken Lanfear said he would ask Macaulay and Associates, the firm hired for the original Local Improvement District assessment, to update the cost of the project for 2007 dollars. Carter agreed that the county would then approach residents of the unincorporated area with a straw poll to gauge their interest in the project.

“What I’m hearing from the folks in Oyehut and Illahee is that they want sewer service,” Carter said.Larry Phoenix, a property owner in Oyehut, confirmed Carter’s suspicions. “We are pretty much all in favor of getting sewer lines. We just want to be able to develop our land.”

City Council members said once Oyehut and Illahee residents give their approval, they would foot the bill for the project’s start-up costs.

Water problems
Separate from the sewer project is the county-led plan to tap a new well in Hogan’s Corner to supply water to Ocean Shores, Illahee, Oyehut, Ocean City State Park, the Quinault Resort & Casino and Hogan’s Corner.

“We are looking at developing a new regional water supply in Hogan’s Corner,” said Kevin Varness, director of utilities and development for the county.

“The county has spent about $500,000 on analysis of ground water in the area, we’ve dug four or five wells, we did testing and obtained water rights from the state for 4,000 gallons per minute, and that’s enough to serve several times over what the current development plan is for Ocean Shores to Copalis Beach,” he added.But the county is asking these entities to bear some of the $5 million to $6 million estimated cost of running the 12-inch pipeline.

“It’s very good quality water,” Varness said of the well, located behind the North Beach RV repair shop. “But there’s several miles of pipeline and there’s a large cost there.”

The county is currently working with the Quinault Indian Nation to acquire federal funding for the $2 million first phase of the project, which would connect the well to the casino’s on-site 500,000 gallon reservoir. Under the county’s plan, the state would pay for pipelines to connect the state park, and Ocean Shores would pay for the pipeline connecting the city.

“(The casino has) a reservoir, but it’s never really panned out. They’ve spent a lot of money trying to get water out of their very shallow wells, and they were experiencing some pretty extreme water quantity issues last summer,” Varness said, adding that the federal money is “connected to economic development for tribes and failing water systems on tribal land.”

Varness and Carter said the Quinault Nation was considering signing a contract that would waive its sovereignty rights in order to move the project forward.

Mayor Mike Patrick was suspicious of the contract, saying “As a sovereign nation they can ignore any contract they sign.”Councilman Creighton said the tribe is just as eager to get better and more water. “The Quinaults need us just as much as we need them. I do believe that they’ll stay with a contract,” he said.

Cheaper, better?
Mike Olden, a utilities consultant for the county, said the county would be able to sell water to the City of Ocean Shores at wholesale for between $1 and $2 per cubic foot. Ocean Shores residents currently pay $5.25 per cubic foot when it hits their water meter.

“If we are successful in getting phase one paid for, we’re pretty confident that the price of water will go down,” Varness said.But McEachin said a lot of “unknowns” about the well remain. “We know about our wells, but that well being new, we don’t really know how much it will produce and for how long,” he said.Ocean Shores is expected to approve a $1.4 million water treatment project next week — money that the county says could be used for pipes. “We’re talking to them about not putting money into treatment, but instead looking at buying pipes,” Varness said.

“We still need to go forward with our treatment. Even if we do use Hogan’s Corner water, we still need a backup ... when we can’t supply the demand we need,” McEachin said.The City Council agreed to continue to look into connecting with the new well, but many said they were wary about proceeding without a clear picture of the project’s feasibility.

“At some point in time, this might be a nice addition,” said Councilwoman Terry Veitz, “but I want to know more. I don’t think (the county is) where we need them to be in order to make a decision.”

“I think this is win-win all the way around,” Commissioner Carter said. “It’s just a matter of getting the bugs out.”