Carlsborg residents question need for sewer system, infrastructure in such a rural community
by Sue Forde
for Citizen Review Online
Sequim, WA – A townhall meeting was held by Clallam County Commissioner Jim McEntire , District 1, and Sheila Roark-Miller, elected DCD [Dept. of Community Development] director to get input from the citizens who reside in Carlsborg, WA about a proposed sewage treatment plant. The meeting was held on August 7, 2012, starting at 5:30 pm in the Sequim Transportation Community Center. Approximately 80 people showed up, including residents, those who live in the surrounding area, and other interested citizens.
Sheila Roark-Miller opened by stating that “our job is to plan for infrastructure…plan for the UGA [Urban Growth Area]”.
Jim McEntire said that the “order of invalidity has been lifted”. Folks who own land are now free to pursue things in the UGA – as limited by law – the legal decision turned on a “technical point”, he said. The issue wasn’t whether the UGA was valid, but rather, did the county have a plan for infrastructure, i.e. the sewer. With the Growth Hearings Board, the issue still remains, he said. Police services, wastewater treatment and other infrastructure are needed. “We must be diligent in getting together the infrastructure,” he stated. The question is how to do this. The urgency has not gone away, he added.
Dave, a member of the audience, said he is part of the “opposition group”. The “biggest sticking point among the residents is money,” he said. Sequim has a high population density. Carlsborg does not. It’s not feasible for a sewer system when Steve Tharinger was involved: where are the numbers, how much. “We got the runaround,” he stated. You need to come up with real numbers – in you don’t, it’s inappropriate to shove this down the throats of the people in Carlsborg – sewer to service 7,500 homes, but the bill will go to far fewer folks. “It’s unfeasible,” he repeated. He suggested small cluster style sewer systems. There is new technology, he said. Why not look into that?
“This [meeting] is being recorded,” McEntire told the audience. He then introduced Paul Hanes, representing the City of Sequim, and Will Purser, commissioner from the PUD [Public Utility District].
Purser told the listeners that the “PUD serves most of you as ‘customers’.” The PUD “found itself” in this position as a UGA, he said. It’s all about financing. The county paid for all the PUD services so far. The “plan had to be put in place”, by going after low-interest loans and grants. He added that the facilities plan has been submitted to the WA State Dept. of Ecology (DOE). The PUD is proven for its technical expertise, he said.
McEntire introduced county staff present: Anne Soule, Bob Martin, Steve Gray, and County Commissioner Mike Doherty, who left soon afterward.
McEntire then said the LUD [Local Utility District] had “gone away.” He added that he was present as an “independent” commissioner, not representing the Board of County Commissioners. He applauds that it give a chance for a different approach in spreading the money around. He said he wants to see all available options – the least expensive – piping water to Sequim included. He wants to see that the capital costs are not concentrated on a very small number of people. The “Opportunity Fund” paid the PUD loan, which spreads the cost over everyone in the county, he said.
McEntire went on to say that Clallam County is a “rural distressed” county, and that as a result, we get 9/10 cent from the State sales tax, which goes into the Opportunity Fund. We paid the 20-year loan to PUD for building the infrastructure, so the “load doesn’t fall on 200-300 people” that way.
Dave said the response is unsatisfactory. “We’ve been going to these meetings for quite awhile now,” and still there is no idea of the cost. “I’m assuming if you’ll be piping to Sequim, it will have an enormous cost. We need some numbers,” he urged.
McEntire responded that “as soon as we know the numbers, you’ll know.”
Carlsborg is built in ½ – 2 acre lots. Large numbers of people are underwater because of mortgages. Values will continue to go down. This will also scare off buyers, Dave continued.
McEntire said he wanted to discuss the hookup fee. They are in the process of deciding that now – and whether early ones hooking up will cost less – and the monthly cost.
Roark-Miller said the Carlsborg Community Advisory Council is in the process of discussing “incentives”.
Dave said another concern is the possibility of subdivisions – and is concerned that they will turn Carlsborg into a “shanty town”. The people who live in Carlsborg love our community, he said. “It’s not broke, so don’t fix it,” he urged.
Marnie raised the question about the Dry Creek UGA, and said they are not required to have sewer. “Why do we have to?” she wanted to know.
County planner Steve Gray said that portions of an unincorporated UGA don’t have sewer service. They will have to extend; there is a “plan”, he said.
Marnie said as a UGA, services like police, street lights, fire, parks and more will be required. “Where will the money for the other items come from?” she wanted to know. And street lights cause a lot of light at night – we won’t be able to see the stars and enjoy our rural lifestyle, she said. After several meetings, nothing is being done to allay the fears. Everyone will be “forced” to hook up to the sewer system. We’re looking at potential financial ruin. Property values are already decreasing. The Stefanis live right next to the PUD [sewage treatment plant], and there are huge trucks going back and forth: it affects property value negatively, she said. “You” will be defining the hardships. “Sewer, ‘or’ medicine ‘or’ food!”
Marnie continued: Many can’t afford another $60 or $70 a month on top of everything else. A majority don’t what this. “You’re not doing a good job of convincing us that there ‘is’ a problem,” she said. With the money available, you could replace every septic system in the Carlsborg area. Residents need to be able to express our fears. “Give us the numbers!”
Steve Gray said that it’s a “plan” – there are a lot of numbers in the “plan”. Low-interest loans have replaced the LUD plan, he said. The “Committee” is discussing connection policies and incentives. There is no policy that everyone would have to connect “immediately.”
Gray continued: “This is a “concept” plan. We’re looking to make the numbers lower.
Purser said the PUD had looked at the LUD and “talked about it”, and it didn’t “make any sense.” Alternately, a system done by the county may not make sense either, he said.
A Sequim city employee stood up and said that the city may have an interest in providing regional services – if the services can be less expensive. “We want to see what we ‘can’ provide; we are paying attention as a ‘regional partner’”, he said.
McEntire said it is legally impermissible outside a UGA (per the GMA [WA State Growth Management Act]) to hook onto a city or wastewater treatment. You can’t extend beyond the UGA for sewer, he said.
“Unless it’s an emergency,” Roark-Miller added.
Dave said that the planning and zoning will change the character of the community. We like our chickens, livestock and rural way of life, he said.
Gray responded that the county established the UGA by law. The county will have to agree to a linkage between the City of Sequim and Carlsborg. He added that a pipe is going to the lower Elwha Reservation because it’s a public health emergency.
One resident said that the county has to make agreements. Who will pay for the Elwha connection?
Gray responded that the tribe and the Park Service are paying for it. (Note: In other words, the taxpayers are footing the bill.)
McEntire said it’s the nature of the GMA. He opined that “it is a blunt instrument as far as rural counties go. It’s most appropriate for urban counties. The toolkit that is provided to all 39 counties is not a precise set of instruments,” he added. The UGA is the closest tool, he said, although not perfect.
About annexation, McEntire stated: I’ll be the guy who represents any…if you don’t want annexation, “it won’t happen.”
Jayla Winstad said she has a community septic system. She moved here in 2003. “How do we know [the septic systems] are failing? Fix what we’ve got,” she urged.
McEntire said that Sequim is the closest sewer system to Carlsborg, and a line could go down the Olympic Discovery Trail to Priest Road. It seems a logical choice, he said. They could hang a pipe off the 101 Bridge.
Judy Larsen said that a bill (HB 2267 ) was moving through the State Legislature whereby the GMA might not be applied to rural areas “Perhaps the UGA will not be required,” she said. (On later examination, the bill died for this session. In a separate interview, McEntire said he would fully support such a bill.)
One resident asked about the Advisory Council, wondering about the 10 people who signed to start the LUD. McEntire said the process “went away”.
“Scott”, another Carlsborg owner, asked why the Advisory Committee included only one resident out of the seven members. Residents don’t have a real voice, he said. He stated that if Parkwood isn’t incorporated into the UGA, then Carlsborg could “not” be “required” into the sewer system. “How can these numbers be included?” he asked. “If the numbers aren’t there, Carlsborg wouldn’t qualify for the “density” of a UGA.”
McEntire responded that he is “not interested” in re-litigating the UGA.
Scott replied that a group of residents went door-to-door and were told we “would” have a voice. “Give us a ‘voice’ whether or not we ‘want’ a UGA”, he urged.
Another resident said he wanted to speak on behalf of the people of Carlsborg. He said approximately 12 people live next to the PUD sewage treatment plant, and wants to state his objection on behalf of the people. There are “health risks, noise, odors – it’s a public stigma on our homes to have a sewage treatment plant so close. And there is a childcare facility subject to health risks,” he said. The solution would be to send it to Sequim, he added.
“Mike” asked how the county intends to compensate the property owners for the stigma. He also questioned the fact that when the Community Committee meeting was held last Tuesday, severl people who own property and businesses were there. Paul McHugh came for the first time, and, “strangely enough,” Mike said, a new subcommittee was formed and he was appointed as chair (need to check on this to be sure it’s accurate, I’m “assuming he was, but didn’t write it down). He said McHugh is a property developer and owns lots of land in Carlsborg. He reiterated that it was “kind of strange” that a “new” subcommittee formed the first night he showed up.
An employee of the PUD commented that the proposal of Sequim’s taking sewage “sounds good to me.” The PUD plant is close to various residences. The PUD is not “competing” for this facility.
“Mike” suggested moving the sewage treatment to Sequim; that would make about 20 homeowners very happy, he said.
McEntire said the dilemma is the capital cost We need to “get it as low as possible”.
One landowner said, “How about ‘zero’”?
McEntire replied that “zero is not on the table, for reasons I’ve already explained.” We’re working on “blending” the operation costs – hookup fees, etc., he said. If shipping water to Sequim isn’t an option, then odor-eating stuff could be placed in the homes.
A PUD representative told the audience they had visited sewage plants in other places. Mike Kitz of PUD said they visited a system in Port Townsend, although it was a “different” type of system. They looked at a membrane system, but DOE rejected it; it was not approved by them.
Lisa Donaldson said she owns property in Carlsborg and has been involved for 20 years. She said she is frustrated, yet appreciative that they [the county] is “trying to get the numbers down.
John Rath stated emphatically that “we the people don’t want this”. We haven’t seen it on the ballot, he said. “You people told me that the water was screwed up, and now you’re trying to put in a sewer system?” If you paid $2,500 or more for a system, “you” have to pay now to have it taken out!” Then an “additional” $2,500 – $5,000 to bring it to your house!” “We ‘like’ our rural area,” he added. There are no real numbers yet, but the county has committed $14 million.
“The county has zero debt when it comes to infrastructure,” McEntire stated.
There was a show of hands, with a majority of people showing they “don’t” want a sewer system in Carlsborg. There was a show of hands – property owners and landowners – of 23 people against, and only four people in favor.
Dana Ford said she doesn’t live in the UGA. She bought land a year ago, and got no notification of the pending sewer system. She put all her money into the property. There are carcinogens in residential areas with a sewage treatment plant, she said. So many things aren’t factored in, she added.
McEntire said that he believes it will be Class A “reuse” water, which is the same as “river water.”
Theresa West said she lives two doors from the PUD treatment plant. It’s in “my backyard,” she said I disagree that we residents won’t be paying. Budget how much you will compensate for devalued property, she said.
“If there’s a legal way to do that, I’d like to explore that,” McEntire said.
Susan Quipple said she has a farm that she wants to develop as an organic one. Anne Soule had stated earlier that the soil was “T-1”. How long until everyone is hooked up? she wanted to know.
McEntire said he wanted to talk about the connection policy.
Anne Soule, County Environmental Health, said the soils in Carlsborg are glacial in nature. The septic systems have to be designed for nitrate reduction; it’s very expensive.
One person asked whether the UGA would expand.
McEntire responded: “That’s unknowable.”
Brian Magner said, “Can you reference a law where we ‘have’ to do this? As of crossing the river, how is Sequim going to cross the river without the Tribe’s blessing.”
McEntire responded: “The fact that a UGA exists requires it.”
Magner said: “You could go with a LAMRID [Limited Area of More Intense Rural Development].”
McEntire retorted that he is not willing to adversely affect the property rights of those who bought after the UGA was formed. I don’t want to go there, he said.
Magner asked, “Are we less important because we want to ‘live’ in Carlsborg?”
Chuck Ness questioned the area delineated as UGA, wondering why the boundaries were chosen. “I say we need to beat this again,” he said. It wasn’t UGA 20 years ago. There are knit-picky things being discussed here, while the big things are not addressed. Why not an investigation about the sewer system when the people don’t want it? We will get increased taxes as a result. “There’s going to be some folks who will take you to court,” he said. The cost was $85,000 for the last investigation, and it was a good one, he said. It’s a high-cost operation that will adversely affect a certain population on the Peninsula. Who will pay it off? “Investigate it first!” he urged.
Ness continued: “You say, ‘We have to do this’”. “No, you don’t!” It’s going to kill your property values; the enjoyment of it. There are [also] engineering considerations.
Dale West asked if the DOE approval has been requested already. He wanted to know how are the City of Sequim and the county negotiating. He had to install a state-of-the-art 3-mound system at a cost of $15,000.
Tom Martin, PUD budget manager, said the request had been submitted to DOE in June. Greg Zettner is the Southwest region manager of DOE. The deadline is 90 days from date of submission – sometime in September. Zettner will give an approval or not, Martin said. Or there will be conditions of the sewage treatment plant, he said.
West queried, “If approved, how would that affect negotiations with the City of Sequim?”
“What is going on?” West wanted to know. With the City of Sequim, what capacity can Sequim support? By 2030, the sewer system is already obsolete. One builder is talking about hundreds of homes. A fee of $500 or $1,000 to connect each one. Residents of Carlsborg will suffer; they will no longer have the option of connecting with the system. He wanted to know of the fees to connect to Sequim would be higher.
Robert Crittenden questioned the contamination of groundwater. His property is located near the ponds for the sewage treatment; he plans on growing organic vegetables. He said Class A water is not good enough for fish, per the DOE. He said it is futile to drill deeper, as the point source [pollution] will go to the aquifer. The only recourse is to abandon my investment and move somewhere else, he said.
Pam Vass asked “Where do we go from here? Can we do away with the UGA?”
McEntire responded that he is “not willing to go there.”
Bob Forde said the GMA calls for local control. Steve Gray added, “in accordance with the laws.” Forde stated that the “‘best interest’ is not the protection of individual rights.” He suggested to McEntire that he [McEntire] is acting like the sewer system and other infrastructure is a “done deal.” Forde said, “It’s ‘not’ okay as a representative of the ‘people’”. If you take your proposed population for 2050 and divide it by the money, that’s about $7,800 per person, he said.
McEntire responded that if he were “king for a day”, he wouldn’t have the GMA at all, but would go back to the Planning Enabling Act, which existed prior to the GMA’s passage.
Forde stated that there have been exceptions at the Western Growth Hearings Board – perhaps we could apply for an exception. McEntire asked for examples; Forde responded he “believed” that Benton County was one.
McEntire said he wanted to move on to a discussion about the cost of connecting to the sewer lines.
(Note: Not all complete names were heard via the mic system; we will do our best to find out the full names of the speakers, and add to this story when known.)
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