Oak Harbor City Council balks at choosing finalists for sewer plant sites

Oak Harbor decision-makers have, for the second time in as many months, declined to narrow the number of possible wastewater treatment locations to three finalists.

The city council convened in a special meeting recently to pare the current list of five candidate sites based on the recommendation of a hired consulting firm. But, despite the urging of engineers itching for a decision and a host of community members adamantly opposed to one of the sites, the decision was once again put off.

The city council met this past October to pare the list but tabled the issue due to two absent city council members. Ironically, the same decision was made again Nov. 26 for largely the same reason.

City Councilman Jim Campbell said he believed the precedent had been set and recommended waiting so that everyone could participate in the decision. City council members Rick Almberg and Beth Munns voiced support for moving forward, but ultimately agreed to delay.

“I’m not going to fall on my sword over this one,” said Almberg, adding that he was willing to have meetings out of sequence if it would result in an earlier decision.

Oak Harbor is facing something of a time crunch as it must have a facility plan submitted to the state Department of Ecology by December 2012 or face violations or lawsuits brought on by third parties.

City Engineer Eric Johnston said he didn’t want the city council to feel too pressured but also made it clear that a process has begun and that the clock is ticking.

“Do you have time? Yes. Do you have a lot of time? No,” Johnston said.

The three sites under proposal include Windjammer Park, U.S. Navy property on Crescent Harbor and the old city shops at the end of City Beach Street. But in order for that property to be viable, private property would have to be acquired from Fleet Reserve Association Branch 097.

A handful of group officials, members of Boy Scout Troop 59, and at least once concerned neighbor were in attendance to discourage any further consideration of the old city shops.

The Fleet Reserve is not interested in selling and the Boy Scout troop would be displaced as it meets on the organization’s property.

Their objections did spur some discussion among city council members about whether action should be taken on a site that does not appear to be an option, but Johnston said keeping it in the plans could prove valuable.

Concerns and a lack of community support for Windjammer Park and the old city shops may leave the Crescent Harbor site the only viable location. But it comes with its own set of troubles as the property belongs to the U.S. Navy.

“It would literally require an act of Congress for the government to give deed to the city, title ownership in that piece of property,” Johnston said.

Johnston said federal laws would only allow the city to acquire the land if it was the only property feasible. By keeping the other two sites on the list, even if they aren’t possible, it would strengthen the city’s position that Crescent Harbor is the only real choice, he said.

Council members also had questions concerning the possibility of leasing the property and the costs associated with each site. Combined with the reluctance to vote on an issue so important with two missing members, it was unanimously agreed to table the issue until the Jan. 17 meeting.


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