PCHB sets sewer appeal hearing date

Published on Thu, Jun 5, 2003 by Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

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PCHB sets sewer appeal hearing date

By Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

A hearing date has been set following two recent appeals filed with the Pollution Control Hearing Board (PCHB) against the city of Blaine and Department of Ecology (DOE).

The Partnership for Responsible Development (PFRD), a local concerned citizens group, and the Nooksack Tribe, based in Deming, filed independent appeals regarding a sewer permit obtained by the city of Blaine. The permit, called the national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES), was issued to the city for its wastewater treatment plant by the state department of ecology on March 13.

The PCHB, which hears appeals on orders and decisions made by the state DOE, has marked mid-February 2004 for the hearing date, but has not yet said where the hearing will be held. The PFRD and Nooksack Tribe both filed their appeals within the timeframe as stated by law; appeals must be filed within 30 days of the initial decision.

�We�re a little surprised,� said city manager Gary Tomsic about the appeal. �I think it�s a distraction. There are other things the city needs to focus on. This is a fairly drawn out process in which we have to go through.�

PFRD position
According to Lincoln Rutter, co-founder of PFRD, it was important to file an appeal in order to push the city to take care of its sewer problems. �We want to see a proper plan and approach to the problem,� he said. �This was the only way we could do it. Hopefully this will help the city. We need responsible managers and responsible growth, and we�re after preventing pollution. We�re not at all against growth.�

In the appeal filed by PFRD, the group cites environmental hazards and concerns about the sewer system�s status, including capacity issues and fecal coliform levels. �Marine habitat. Shellfish. Birding. Those interests have been allowed to be overlooked,� said Patti Rutter, the other co-founder of PFRD. �We feel very strongly about the environment and we�re very concerned about it.�

PFRD states within the appeal that in 1995 Blaine had engineered plans approved by the DOE for upgrading and rehabilitating the present facility. The city then began excavation work to upgrade the plant, but the excavation encountered ancient human remains and further excavation stopped. However, the existing facility continued to operate despite much needed upgrades. �If we weren�t having capacity issues then, then why was the city working on it in 1995?� Patti Rutter said.

The appeal further states that the NPDES permit requires the city of Blaine to submit a report to the DOE citing a plan and schedule for maintaining capacity at the treatment plant when the flow or waste load reaches a certain percentage within a certain timeframe. And according to PFRD, the plant has reached and exceeded that, but the plant has been allowed to continue operations.

�It shouldn�t take private citizens� funds to make agencies do what they are supposed to do,� Patti Rutter said. �You have to compel them on the facts and compel them to do something now. I guess if we get a little mud on our face, it�s worth it.�

Nooksack Tribe position
The Nooksack Tribe cited similar environmental concerns within their appeal, and stated their fishing rights are being affected because of sewer issues. The tribe is a holder of water rights as stated in the Treaty of Point Elliott on January 22, 1855.

�Ecology�s decision regarding the NPDES permit at issue directly adversely affects a usual and accustomed shellfishing area reserved to the Tribe,� the appeal states. �One of the high priorities of the Tribe is to restore water quality in Drayton Harbor to levels at which shellfish can be safely harvested and the waters can be used for a wide range of cultural and recreational activities by tribal members.�

The Tribe noted in the appeal that it believes �the permit will impair water quality, fish habitat, and adversely affect fish and the rights of the Tribe in violation of federal and state law. The Tribe has relied on shellfish resources from Drayton Harbor for ceremonial, subsistence, and commercial purposes since time immemorial.�

City position
According to Steve Banham, director of public works, there are problems with the plant, but the city is working to correct them.

�The city has done well within our permit. The appeals are misleading in the way they�re stated,� Banham said. �From our standpoint, Drayton Harbor is a big selling point for the community, and there�s a lot of effort being put forth to take care of the issue.�

According to Banham, the city has at least a couple of years before the plant runs into some serious problems. �That�s if we do nothing,� he said. �But we are doing something. We�re working on short-term and long-term plans.�

The city is working on a comprehensive sewer plan, Banham said, that is hoped to be completed by October. An advisory committee comprised of community members was recently created, and will discuss potential ideas and site plans. The city is hoping the plant will attract federal attention for government funding.

�This is like a Cinderella story, it has all the makings of it,� he said. �It�s going to be challenging, but there�s a lot of opportunities.�

Outcome could take a year
According to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board, an appeal decision will be issued in writing and mailed to all litigants within 90 days of the hearing.

The final outcome of this appeal may not be known until some time next year, unless the parties settle prior to the hearing.

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