Tech team brings experts to local problems

Published on Thu, May 16, 2002 by Meg Olson

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Tech team brings experts to local problems

By Meg Olson

Coming from all over the state and all levels of government, a team of specialists got together with proponents of a regional sewer and a heritage site at the base of Semiahmoo Spit to fast track the project and keep it on the right track.

“We were involved in the original project and a lot of its headaches and heartaches,” said Sheri Boughton of the United States Department of Agrigulture’s (USDA) rural development’s utility branch, who is leading the “tech team” assigned to the project through the state’s community economic development team committee. “We want more people involved before the project is at the table for funding.”

Around the table at the Blaine library on May 13 were representatives from the city, the Birch Bay Water and Sewer District (BBWSD), the Lummi Nation, the federal forest service, USDA, state departments of ecology and trade and economic development, the port of Bellingham and two non-profit agencies that specialize in small communities. During the day long meeting they reviewed progress on the two arms of the project and how funding for them could be secured.

The “Semiahmah Project” coordinated by the Lummi Nation would start with closure of the current wastewater treatment plant site and recovery and reburial of the remains excavated from that site during the halted plant expansion in 1999. Ultimately the site would become part of the county park and hold a memorial to the ancestors who were buried there, a recreation of the traditional village once at the site and other educational and heritage components. The entire project is expected to cost close to $4 million.

The recovery effort and closure of the site is now $800,000 under budget, according to project manager Steve Kinley. “We focus on the heritage park but before that can happen we need site recovery,” Boughton said. Dick Larman of the state office of trade and economic development suggested cultural recovery dollars could be hard to come by, but construction dollars were easier. “I hate the idea of laying ancestors to rest as a footnote to construction but it’s a way to get funding,” he said.
For the Semiahmah project to move forward with site recovery, Blaine needs to stop using the site to treat sewage. Broughton said Blaine and BBWSD needed to step up the pace on signing an interlocal agreement to govern the proposed regional sewer system. “You guys need to get this done soon. Get moving,” she said. “From a funder’s point of view it’s critical.”

Preliminary plans for the regional sewer, with a tentative final price tag of $35 million, are to move forward in phases. The project would start with improvements to lift station one on Marine Drive, moving on to treating some Blaine sewage at the existing BBWSD plant and culminating in a new expanded plant that would treat all the regional wastewater.

Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic said the recently signed water contract opened the door to a sewer interlocal agreement. “The water contract only took us a week but it took us 51 weeks of messing around to get there,” he said. “I’d hope sewer would be a little easier but I doubt it,”
BBWSD manager Roger Brown said the contract would cover a long list, including costs, who manages the system and how, and dispute resolution. “We shouldn’t lessen the amount of effort that will go into that,” he said. The district has applied for a forest service grant to help pay for agreement development. “We have high hopes for that,” said forest service representative Karen Nelson. “It’s up on our list.”

As both branches of the project move forward the “tech team” will meet as often as once a month to focus and coordinate funding, planning and construction. “Try to find out everything you need to know. I don’t want to see you make the same mistakes,” Larman said.

Isaac Blum, a cultural resources advisor with the Lummi Nation, specifically asked that they be closely involved with planning any route for new sewer lines. “If a route is picked we can produce an overlay of where cultural resources are,” he said. “The model now seems to address these issues too late in the game and we should be working on it now.”
Blaine public works director Grant Stewart agreed that closer cooperation on cultural issues would have prevented the burial site disturbance that shut down the treatment plant expansion at Semiahmoo.
“There was an agreement to consult but nothing after that, no process,” he said.

Kinley said the tribe was working on ways for other entities to access the knowledge tribal elders have about where important sites are. “This is a long departure for our older folks but they realize ifthis doesn’t happen we could run into problems again,” he said. “If you say you want to put through a utility line its up to the tribe to tell you what’s there. Semiahmoo is a site that should have been flagged as off limits long ago.”.

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