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Oak Harbor to spend $1 million on new sewer plan

Oak Harbor has taken its first real financial steps toward the construction of a new wastewater treatment facility.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday, Aug. 4, to approve a $1.09 million contract with a national engineering firm to create a preliminary engineering and facilities plan for the proposed treatment plant. City Councilman Scott Dudley did not vote as he was absent.

Eric Johnston, city engineer, told the council that the city’s existing facilities at Windjammer Park and on the Seaplane Base need to be replaced. Both are old and may have trouble meeting increasingly stringent clean water standards being passed down from state regulatory agencies.

According to the city’s 2008 Comprehensive Sewer Plan, Oak Harbor needs to add additional capacity to its existing facilities by 2017. Although the plan also recommended that both be replaced with a new sludge-activated plant on the seaplane base, the suggested location may be unfeasible.

The U.S. Navy’s decision to permanently reopen the Crescent Harbor Marsh area to saltwater in 2009 has made it prone to flooding on high tides. Johnston confirmed that key regulators have suggested that the city may have a difficult time obtaining a permit for a new treatment plant in such an area.

So, while a new facility is still about seven years away, planning needs to begin as soon as possible. It will require considerable investment and Carollo Engineers, a national firm with an office in Seattle, is a good choice for the job, Johnston said.

“They are the most qualified firm to do this work,” he said.

The contract tasks Carollo with developing a range of alternatives, identifying improvements to existing outfalls, investigating effluent reuse opportunities, creating a facilities plan, conducting an environmental review of the proposed alternative, and communicating with the public throughout the process.

Funding for the design work will come from the current Wastewater Division budget, from a combination of funds specifically budgeted for the project, as well as money not used for other capital projects.

That’s just the cost of the Carollo contract, however. The total cost for the new treatment plant is estimated at $70 million, and funding has yet to be secured.

After expressing some initial sticker-shock, City Councilman Jim Palmer acknowledged that the contract expense was justified as the city needs to begin planning now for the new treatment plant. Councilman Danny Paggao agreed, but stipulated that the public must have a significant voice in the planning process.

“They should not be left out as they are the stakeholders,” Paggao said.

According to the contract, Carollo would need to complete all of its objectives by August of 2012.

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