Fleet Reserve balks at sewer plant site
By JUSTIN BURNETT
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
November 28, 2011 · Updated 1:33 PM
A new wastewater treatment plant at the old city shops? No way, say officials with the Fleet Reserve Association of Oak Harbor.
Branch 97 of the national organization, or more appropriately its five-acre property next to the city’s facility, is intrinsically linked to the site’s viability as a location for the new sewer plant. By itself, the city-owned land is too small, which means the Fleet Reserve’s property would need to be acquired.
Perturbed about a lack of communication on behalf of the city, officials with the nonprofit group are planning to attend a special meeting Monday to let Oak Harbor decision-makers know just how they feel about the idea.
“We would not be interested in selling,” said Ferron Rice, a vice president with Fleet Reserve’s board of directors.
At the special meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. at City Hall, the city council will consider a resolution to pare the number of proposed sites from five to three, based on the recommendation of its consultant, Carollo. A 1 percent property tax increase will also be considered.
The national engineering firm has been working for more than a year to come up with a selection of site finalists. Using a range of criteria, and input from a handful of public meetings, the company is proposing that Windjammer Park, the old city shops at the northern end of City Beach Street and Navy property located behind the existing lagoon site on Crescent Harbor move forward for further study.
The firm is suggesting that the Oak Harbor Marina and Beachview Farm, more commonly known as Fakkema Farm and located just outside the city’s western boundary, be dropped from consideration.
It’s also recommending the city only consider building a plant that utilizes membrane bio-reactor technology rather than activated sludge, the treatment method currently in use at the city’s plant on the Seaplane Base. The former is more effective and takes up less space but at greater cost.
According to Rice, he said he only learned this month that building a new treatment plant at the city shops was contingent on the acquisition of the Fleet Reserve’s property, which it has held since the local chapter was formed in 1946.
He learned of the plan only because City Councilman and Mayor-elect Scott Dudley called a meeting with group leaders to see if they had qualms over the plan. The news he delivered came as something of a shock.
“We had not heard anything,” he said.
Rice met with Mayor Jim Slowik a short time later and quizzed him about why they were not notified. Slowik told him he thought they had been alerted and provided Rice with a copy of a letter mailed to residents of the community.
“We thought they had received it,” Slowik said.
Boiled down, the letter said the old city shops had been identified as a possible site for the new wastewater treatment plant. Rice maintains that neither he nor anyone else at the organization was aware of the letter. He also said he laughed when he read it because it didn’t say anything about acquiring the Fleet Reserve’s land.
“How could anyone see this as a communication?” Rice said.
However, Slowik did relieve some of Rice’s fears. The mayor said the old city shops is not a strong candidate and probaly won’t be selected. But if it were, it’s extremely unlikely the city would exercise its right of eminent domain. Rather, it would negotiate to find and purchase another property for the group and build a replacement building, Slowik said.
According to Slowik, the old city shops has gotten as much negative feedback as the Windjammer Park location. The city has received a handful of letters from residents , including one doctor, who are worried about emissions from a new facility.
“I think this is the worst location,” Slowik said.
While Carollo has its recommendations, the outgoing mayor said he thinks another site east of the Seaplane Base may soon become a candidate. Although he said he couldn’t go into more detail now, he thinks it’s the best of any of the sites proposed so far.
What the city council decides on Monday is anybody’s guess. In fact, Slowik said there is a strong possibility that the issue could be tabled. It was brought before the council in October but only five members were present, so Councilman Bob Severns asked that it be rescheduled for November.
Ironically, Severns will be absent Monday on family business. Councilman Danny Paggao will also be away with a previously excused absence. Slowik said he wouldn’t be surprised if the five attending council members decide to table the issue again.
Whatever happens, Rice said the mayor’s assurances were a big relief. Along with having the property for the past 65 years, the organization provides space for a local boy scout troop free of charge and moving just really isn’t an option.
“I think this is going to be a dead issue, at least that’s what we’re hoping for,” Rice said.
Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Justin Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-675-6611 ext. 5054.