Blaine sewers get a mention in federal budget

Published on Thu, Oct 31, 2002 by Meg Olson

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Blaine sewers get a mention in federal budget

By Meg Olson

The city of Blaine got a foot in the federal budget door with three lines in the recommended house appropriations bill.

In the version of the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development appropriation bill for 2003 due to be introduced in the House of Representatives, Blaine is one of 356 troubled sewer systems earmarked for financial help next year.

As part of “a targeted program making grants to communities for the construction of drinking water, wastewater and storm water, infrastructure and for water quality protection,” the proposed bill allocates $250,000 to the city “for completion of a feasibility study for the Northwest Whatcom County Wastewater Management Plan, Lummis (sic) Diversion, and for related updates of the City’s general sewer plan.”

City manager Gary Tomsic said the funds would be primarily aimed at the last item on that list – updating the city’s comprehensive sewer plan. The update, he said, would answer the question “with a funding scenario in which you aren’t going to get fifty percent federal funding, what do you do?”

Last month, faced with fading hopes of a funding windfall for a regional sewer in the federal budget, Birch Bay Water and Sewer District dropped the regional wastewater issue from their monthly meeting agenda. District manager Roger Brown wrote to the city that “it no longer appears there is any specific plan, financially reasonable for both parties, under which the district would be providing wastewater services to the city.”

“I think we’ve agreed to take a step back and look at alternatives,” Tomsic said, adding that Brown would be a partner in helping the city evaluate those alternatives in light of regional wastewater needs.

Tomsic said that beyond the sewer comprehensive plan the federal funding could pay for some preliminary engineering and cost estimates for system components such as the Loomis Diversion, which would shunt a portion of Blaine wastewater to Birch Bay. “The first step is to get the comprehensive plan done and then, as alternatives start to develop, take a closer look from an engineering standpoint,” he said.

However, the funding is far from a sure thing. It will first need to remain in the bill as the house deliberates and approves it. If it makes it through house approval it will then need to survive through conference with the Senate, whose version of the bill does not include funding for Blaine’ sewer.
What has a stronger chance of surviving the federal budget process is $100,000 for the Lummi Nation to build a memorial and Coastal Salish heritage center at the site of the existing Blaine sewer treatment plant, which is included in both Senate and house bills.

Lummi nation representative Aaron Thomas said the dollars would be used for designing the memorial and interpretive center. “Everything is still in the preliminary stages and there needs to be more discussion with the council before we know what will go there,” he said.

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