Poo-bahs agree on Marine Park sewer site
With time running out on a state deadline and the port cool on the idea of a sewer plant on their harborfront property, the city is turning to their own backyard – Blaine Marine Park.
At the end of an April 12 work session council members were in consensus staff should go ahead with the new general sewer plan, sitting the treatment plant on city-owned property in, or adjacent to, the park. “A treatment plant is not something the port is willing to do,” said public works director Steve Banham. “In terms of Marine Drive options we feel it’s been narrowed down to two city-owned sites.”
The first site would be where the city’s old sewage plant was located, still marked by a large storage tank at the western tip of Blaine Marine Park. Banham said there would be room on the small triangle-shaped property for the proposed 40,000 square foot structure. Using new membrane batch reactor technology the entire treatment process could be housed in a structure significantly smaller than a conventional plant, and dressed up to not look anything like a sewer plant. “We want to build a facility that will not be viewed as a traditional treatment facility, but as an asset to the community,” he said, suggesting one possibility might be topping it with the replica of the old Semiahmoo Light proposed by planning commissioner Brad O’Neill.
The second site proposed would be in the middle of the park adjacent to Marine Drive – the old city landfill – and the structure would be similar, though face less space constraints than on the smaller westerly site. The larger site would also have more room for growth and better access, but would be further from existing infrastructure and would come with a potential environmental nightmare below the surface of the former dump site. Staff recommended council go ahead with a $10,000 environmental assessment that would look at both sites. “There’s an advantage to doing the work, getting it done,” said city manager Gary Tomsic, adding the port had agreed to pick up half the cost and provide technical assistance. “The downside is at what point are we responsible for remediation even if we don’t put the plant there?” stated Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic.
Department of Ecology representative Richard Grout said the investigation would need to happen before there was any use of the commercially zoned site but “as long as whatever is under there is not migrating you’re not under any pressure to deal with it immediately,” he said.
Banham did not ask council members to choose between the two sites on the spot but urged them to decide on Marine Drive or point to another location so staff could move forward immediately on the city’s new sewer comprehensive plan. “We can’t keep kicking the can down the road,” he said. “We need to get into the funding cycles. We need to start building this.” Under the terms of a recent settlement with the Lummi Nation and a local citizens group, the city has two months left to finish the plan and submit it for state approval.
While she supported the need to pick a location and agreed a Marine Drive solution made the most sense, council member Marsha Hawkins was dubious a sewer plant could fit into a recreational area and asked staff to prepare some visual representations. “Show how this is going to fit,” she said.
Marine Drive was the cheapest and the most convenient place to put the plant, Banham said. The total project cost is estimated at 26.5 million dollars, compared to 33 to 35 million for another east Blaine location, and will not mean tearing up city streets to lay new pipe and build new pump stations. “Gravity is your friend,” Banham said. Money saved on infrastructure can go into amenities associated with the building, he said. “We can make this something that not just fits in but adds to the area.”
Banham added a Marine Drive plant also had environmental benefits over considering another site in west Blaine, since the effluent from the plant going through the pipe under the harbor would be irrigation quality water rather than raw sewage. West Blaine sewage could be treated at a satellite plant on that side or treated by Birch Bay Water and Sewer District.
Another advantage to the current siting proposal, according to Tomsic, was that, unlike the several solutions to Blaine’s sewer problems previously endorsed by the city – a regional wastewater system, sending waste to Canada for treatment and a plant on port property – this one didn’t depend on a partner’s approval.
“You can look at this as a series of mis-steps but we believe the decisions we made all along were the best ones – if it could work,” Tomsic said. “This is the first solution where we really have control of our own destiny. In every other instance, we’ve had to ask somebody else if we could do it.”