City sewer plan up for final approval by state
Blaine’s plan for handling the city’s sewage for the next 20 years has been submitted to the state for final review, and with department of ecology approval, design and engineering will begin for a new $18 million sewer plant on Marine Drive.
Engineers have already started geotechnical work to design a 700,000-gallon tank to be built under Marine Drive and contain system overflows during wet weather, Blaine public works director Steve Banham told city council members in a January 24 work session. “I’d like to get that facility into construction so we can use it to store water next winter,” he said. The tank will replace the temporary bladders and old storage tank that now provide 260,000 gallons of protection, not enough to prevent an overflow like that of January 17, when the system was hit with a wall of mixed waste and stormwater as almost five inches of rain dropped on Blaine overnight.
The city didn’t have much choice when it came to improvements to handle overflows and to the lift station on Marine Drive. The state permit for the sewer system requires a solution to the chronic overflow problem. When it came to a new treatment plant, however, there were a lot of choices, from where to put it to what kind of plant and at what cost. The city’s Citizens’ Wastewater Advisory Committee (CWAC) looked at 14 site and treatment alternatives, including sending the waste to Canada or Birch Bay Water and Sewer District for treatment, or a new plant in less developed areas in the city’s southern section. After reviewing the feasibility and public benefit of these alternatives the committee recommended putting the plant at the Marine Drive location.
Ten alternatives for a treatment process were evaluated, CWAC and city council narrowing it to a decision between cleaner water and saving two million dollars on construction. “The deciding factor was ‘is it worth the two million dollars?’ and we heard a resounding yes,” Banham said. The new plant will use a membrane batch reactor process with ultraviolet disinfection to treat waste, and will use a thickening process before having a contractor haul away solids from the plant. “It makes sense to add thickening or you’re paying to haul away water,” Banham said. Water being discharged from the plant will be high enough quality to use for irrigation and industry and Banham said the city hopes to find a market for it.
Construction of the new 23,000 square foot plant as the second phase of improvements is schedules to begin in 2007, according to consultant Ron Brown. “The main time crunch is on permitting,” he said. He anticipates by August 2008, 80 percent of the city’s waste will be going to the new Lighthouse Point Water Reclamation Facility. Brown said the plant will be designed to be as inconspicuous as possible and even add amenities to the area. “We want this to really fit the site,” he said. Odor control is inherent in the design.
Mayor John Liebert asked if the estimated $965,000 cost to run the new plant was significantly more than what it cost to run the existing plant. “It’s comparable,” Banham said.
The next phase of the project will be to take care of the remaining 20 percent of sewage coming from west Blaine. Council and CWAC again evaluated alternatives in a November work session. Their recommendation was to take the cheapest and fastest alternative – pumping the waste under the harbor to the new plant, estimated to cost $3.3 million in new construction, as opposed to a new plant on that side of the water or sending the waste to Birch Bay for treatment. Brown said, however, that the recommendation was tentative and could be revised based on “water quality concerns about sewage under the harbor.”
The 42 million dollars of improvements to the system the plan projects are needed over the next 25 years will come from a combination of higher rates, grants and low-interest loans. “We still feel this is not overly optimistic,” said financial consultant Jennifer Barnes. “It’s achievable.” Blaine sewer rates jumped from $39.78 per month to $49.90 at the beginning of 2005. “The city may have to raise rates an additional 50 percent over the next five years,” Barnes said. “That’s heavily dependent on grant funding.”