Sewer deals leaves wiggle room

Published on Thu, May 10, 2001
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Sewer deals leaves wiggle room

by Soren Velice

Last week, Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic presented city council members with Birch Bay Water and Sewer District’s (BBWSD) proposal to define the parties’ working relationship to seek funding for a $32.3 million regional wastewater treatment program.

“We’re not locked in by this,” he said at a May 7 council of the whole meeting convened to further discuss the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). “In all fairness, though, you’re stating a preference.”

The MOU clarifies the parties’ roles in several ways. They would cooperate in seeking federal funding, allocate funds for work on BBWSD operations and facilities directly to the district and recognize the city must meet State Environmental Policy Act requirements before selecting a specific option to treat the city’s sewage. It would also allow the city to choose another option or modify the regional proposal.

The MOU also refers to BBWSD’s resolution 601, which describes a wholesale-customer relationship between the parties. Although Tomsic said he agreed with BBWSD’s characterization, he said the city could still negotiate details of any contract, as Birch Bay is on its water supply contract.

Public works director Grant Stewart, however, said he was leery of a wholesale relationship with BBWSD. “It seems like it doesn’t have a real tie with the equity we’re putting into the plant,” he said.

Another item in the memo says the city should pay all out-of-pocket expenses for lobbying funds and be reimbursed if the project goes through. “The city believes the project has benefits for the Birch Bay Water and Sewer District not represented in the MOU,” Tomsic said, “so we would ask that they pay a third of lobbying expenses.” He said BBWSD should also pay for all its own travel costs. “I think their frame of mind is they don’t need us as much as we need them,” mayor Dieter Schugt said. “I think they should take some risks themselves.”

“Right now they’re a hell of a lot better off than we are,” John Liebert said. “They have a great plant and we have a $40 million lawsuit; they’re in the cat seat.”

Tomsic also recommended the MOU take other parties into account. “My recommendation in terms of response is that we do enter into the MOU with Birch Bay to jointly seek funding; I would also recommend we work with the Lummi nation and expand the scope of the project to include their funding requirements.” He explained chances of receiving federal funding would be better if Blaine works with the tribe.

Kennedy/Jenks consultants Lynn Takaichi and John Mallady presented the regional proposal at a May 3 workshop; it would cost $32.3 million in 2000 dollars, but inflation over the project’s estimated three years would bring costs to about $35 million; Blaine’s share would be $23.4 million.

The project includes $9.7 million in improvements to get the city by until the project is finished; Blaine’s share is $8.2 million, or 84 percent.

The rest of the project’s cost totals $22.6 million; the city’s share would be $9.5 million, or 42 percent. The city would also have to pay $4.2 million for its share of existing capacity at BBWSD.

“There are lots of features I’m uncomfortable with,” public works director Grant Stewart said. “But I’m comfortable enough to recommend we pursue funding.” He said he was concerned about gravity-fed sections he thought should be force mains and dismantling of facilities that could be used side-by-side with new ones.

“Clearly, without some outside help this program is going to raise rates,” Takaichi said. “We’ve estimated the program would need 75 percent grant funding to keep the cost below the current rate.” With such assistance, Blaine would pay $5.9 million. “It’s not unusual in the wastewater treatment business to receive grant money of this magnitude,” he added.

The May 3 presentation also included a less detailed study of four alternatives to the regional project: tying into the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) for $9 million, directing waste through a manmade wetland and ultraviolet disinfection near Dakota or California Creek for about $24 million or building a new $18 million conventional plant between Semiahmoo and Birch Point.

First on the list of potential benefits for each is shutting down the old plant, which all four plans would do; another is relocating the outfall to deep saltwater, which the regional plan and GVRD tie-in would accomplish; still another is abandoning the underwater pipe across Drayton Harbor. “I don’t like any of the options that keep that pipeline underwater,” council member Ken Ely said. “I think it’s ultimately fraught with peril; it’s not easy to work on, it’s not easy to maintain, it’s not easy to monitor. There’s nothing easy about it.”

Cost will also figure heavily in Blaine’s decision. “The lowest cost is GVRD,” Takaichi said, “but we did this without considering federal funding; when you take into consideration federal grants, many alternatives become cheaper than GVRD unless you think federal funding would pay for construction of facilities in Canada.”

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