Districtmandates public sewer for Birch Bay View

Published on Thu, Jul 6, 2006 by ara Nelson

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District mandates public sewer for Birch Bay View

By Tara Nelson

Birch Bay Water and Sewer District (BBWSD) officials are taking a new approach to solving the problem of failing on-site septic systems (OSSs) in the Birch Bay View community.

After years of concern for environmental health and failed initiatives to fund sewer extensions, officials have developed an incentives-based approach to getting private landowners to hook up to district sewer lines.

The resolution, passed by district commissioners in a June 29 meeting, will extend services to the 40-acre neighborhood near Birch Point Road and would require approximately 120 homes to connect by October 2.

Roger Brown, BBWSD general manager, said, in addition to aging systems, much of the problems are caused by small lot sizes, poor soil conditions, a steep slope above a marine area and a high seasonal water table that create unsuitable conditions for proper septic draining.

“You don’t want to have a high water table and you don’t want it to be steep,” he said. “You want it to be flat and slowly filter through the soil.

“If you don’t have all those conditions then you don’t have the requirements for a properly-functioning septic system.”

In 2003, the Washington State Department of Health’s Puget Sound Action Team (DOH) listed Birch Bay as one of 20 threatened shellfish areas partly as a result of failing sewage systems. And in 2002, the Whatcom County Health Department estimated that 11 percent of on-site septic systems (OSSs) in the community either released raw sewage to the surface or failed a flow test, indicating those systems are not draining properly.

Others, such the Birch Bay Village Community Club and the Birch Bay Steering Committee have expressed their support for such a project but because 75 percent of residents in the Birch Bay View community are of low to moderate income, the district has had difficulty getting support of more than 51 percent of property owners inside the project area to initiate a local utility improvement district (ULID) to fund it.

“They’ve always failed,” Brown said. “That area needs sewers; the problem is that, often times, owners of undeveloped property don’t see it that way. And people who have septic systems seem to think that they work even if they don’t so it can be difficult to garner majority support.”

The new resolution will require property owners within the project area to pay a total of $7,841 upon connection. Construction of the project is scheduled to begin immediately.

To add an incentive, Brown said the district will offer a low-interest 15-year payment installment plan within the 90-day election period, which ends October 2.

The 2.15 percent installment plan requires the first payment due 12 months from the date of signing with payments of $691.31 the first year, declining to $533.97 in the 15th year, along with a $24 bimonthly basic sewer charge.

Some low-income residents, however, may qualify for a reduced or waived hookup fee, as provided by a $850,000 block grant from the Community Trade and Economic Development organization (CTED) and a variety of grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for low-income residents and seniors.

Whatcom County environmental health specialist Ted Halasz said property owners will also be required to have abandoned septic tanks pumped out by a licensed septic installer and filled with soil or sand.

Brown said property owners may continue using their septic systems if they are able to obtain written verification from the Whatcom County public health department that their tanks are functioning properly.

However, properties – both developed and undeveloped – will require a connection fee paid in full before they are sold or transferred. Brown said at that time property owners would no longer be offered the 15-year installment plan.

Brown identified two subdevelopments outside the project area that will benefit from the new extension. Those properties, include the 446-home Horizons at Semiahmoo project just east of Selder Road and the Monterey Heights development just south of BBVC, and would have a higher connection fee based on the lot sizes and because the low-income grants were not deducted from the total cost of that part of the project.

Jim Kaemingk, of Horizons development, said he thought the cost for hookups outside the project area was unfair.

Based on the estimated 615 feet of sewer pipe needed, Horizons project developers would pay approximately $49,035.

“I’m not saying we’re not going to pay it,” he said. “It just seems a little extreme.”

Kaemingk asked the board why the cost for the Horizons development was more than inside the project area.

Brown responded that because low-income grants were provided using population data from inside the project area, those grants could not count toward the total cost of hookups outside that area.

“We received block grants for low-income residents, the basis of the fees is different,” he said. “This is a primarily developed area and we based the fee on the number of equivalent living units or per single family connection.

“In addition, the lots were fairly small and uniform in size. Outside the project area, you don’t have the same situation. Those costs were allocated based on linear feet of sewer and those are large lots. So when you break it down, the price is quite a bit higher.”

Bob Whitcroft, a resident of Birch Bay who lives in the Birch Bay View neighborhood, however, said he was happy about the decision.
“I’m absolutely amazed at the willingness of the district to communicate to the landowners,” he said. “I also think it’s a great project.”

When asked if he will be taking advantage of the low-interest loan, Whitcroft said no.

Other Birch Bay View residents were not as delighted.

Seattle residents Joyce and Clyde Rimmers said they bought their summer home on Fir Way 16 years ago and don’t see a need for a new sewer hookup with their limited use of the property. The Rimmers, however, said they will take advantage of the loan program anyway.

“It would be crazy not to,” said Joyce. “We have kids and grandkids who we might want to pass the house along to so it makes sense financially.”

For more information, call the Birch Bay Water and Sewer District at 371-7100.

For more information about the DOH’s report on septic system problems in Birch Bay, visit www.psat.wa.gov.