Port dubious about sewer plant location

Published on Thu, Mar 4, 2004 by Meg Olson

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Port dubious about sewer plant location

By Meg Olson

The Port of Bellingham is not convinced Blaine�s new sewer treatment plant needs to be on their land, land that�s part of a master plan aimed at combining history and nature to grow a thriving recreational and retail environment. �We�ve put millions of dollars into renovating the harbor and we aren�t sure a sewage treatment plant in the center of that would be the best use,� said port commissioner Scott Walker. �We�re very reluctant to change the use of that area for something that doesn�t need a waterfront location.�

On February 26 Port of Bellingham executive director Jim Darling sent a letter to Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic asking that the city back up their argument for a marina location with more concrete costs and benefits. �I have to admit I would be hard pressed to make a solid recommendation on what I understand to be the reasoning to date,� Darling wrote. The letter was a follow up to a February 17 presentation to the port commissioners by Blaine public works staff that put forward the argument to locate the city�s new sewage treatment plant in the Marine Drive area, on land currently owned by the port. Blaine public works director Steve Banham said the city�s Solid Waste Advisory Committee came back with a recommendation to locate the plant at the western end of Marine Drive near Harbor Caf�, with their second choice of location being closer to downtown, near the boat launch. The argument for the Marine Drive location, Banham said, was cost. �This location was less expensive,� he said.

Because the current piping of the Blaine sewer system already converges on Marine Drive, money saved because new piping to an alternate site is not needed can be used to build a more advanced treatment facility. The dollars can go into being an amenity rather than going into pipe that goes to something that�s not an amenity.

The membrane bio-reactor treatment system being proposed, Banham said, would produce effluent clean enough to be used for irrigation. �The environmental and clean water aspects were a huge factor in this decision,� he said. The treatment system also makes for a less intrusive sewer plant, according to Banham. �The key is for people to understand this is not a traditional treatment plant,� he said. �The assumption it�s smelly and ugly is a wrong assumption.�

Walker said port commissioners are looking for solid evidence the cost savings implicit in building the plant in the harbor area outweigh the loss of valuable waterfront property. �The price of waterfront land is so high today can you afford to put a sewer treatment plant on it?� Walker asked. �If you take the long view of waterfront development do you want to put a sewer treatment plant on your waterfront, as limited an asset as it is, even if it is a state of the art sewer plant?� Walker also questioned how a sewer plant, no matter how advanced, could serve as an amenity in an area poised to be developed for tourism and recreation.

Banham said the city would be working to get the port commissioners the answers they need. �We�re trying to get a resolution within a month. Right now everything is on hold,� he said.