Council grinds out sewer ordinance

Members of the Oak Harbor City Council found themselves at loggerheads at their last meeting of the year as they verbally sparred about a proposed sewer ordinance that will affect a peeved group of Dillard’s Addition residents. But they eventually passed the proposal on a decidedly split vote.

The so-called grinder pump ordinance first raised the shoreline community’s dander when it was introduced in October following the council’s decision to purchase the much maligned low-pressure, grinder pump sewer system for $124,434 from developer Robert Anderson. As drafted, the ordinance required residents to hook into the grinder pump system within five years, extending the current 60-day time limit. For a group of homeowners loath to connect to the sewer system in the first place, adding years did little to placate the residents.

The council, after recommending to City Attorney Phil Bleyhl an even longer extension, tabled the ordinance decision at an earlier meeting when Councilman Larry Eaton called for an investigation into the city’s conduct surrounding the sewer debacle.

An amended ordinance last Tuesday, Dec. 18, increased the timeline from five to 10 years, which would buy time for the city and residents. Language was also included to address state and federal laws.

The final meeting for Mayor Patty Cohen and three council members turned out to be contentious and convoluted. Motions were made and left to die as the same issues arose repeatedly and the circuitous route to a solution failed to reach its destination.

Councilwoman Sue Karahalios strongly suggested, to properly show agencies due diligence, including in the ordinance a mechanism to ensure acknowledgment of septic system testing after five years.

“There are grave concerns for what we are setting the city up for,” she said.

City Administrator Paul Schmidt told the council that five years would be ample time for the city to put a program in place that would address the inevitable, more stringent regulations in the pipeline.

Councilman Paul Brewer made a motion to table the decision until Karaholios’ concerns could be investigated. After the motion was voted down 4-3, Brewer lamented what he felt was the city’s tendency to rush decisions.

“Why not do it right the first time?” he asked.

Council members Sheilah Crider and Jim Campbell both disagreed with the 10-year timeline.

“My concern is that 12 to 24 months from now we’ll be looking down a huge barrel,” Crider said.

“That will just shove this 10 years down the pipe,” Campbell added.

Resident Duane Dillard said he supported the five-year increase in the amended ordinance, but he could not support language that would essentially require him to discontinue use of a working and maintained septic system.

“Allow properly functioning septic systems to be used indefinitely and/or until the state of Washington mandates abandoning functioning septic systems in Washington state,” Dillard offered as additional language to be embedded in the ordinance.

Arguments regarding the merits and drawbacks of of the proposed timelines ensued. Brewer once again watched a motion to temporarily end the impasse fall 4-3. Likening the discussion to the recycling emblem, he said the council members were counterproductively going in circles.

“We’re not accomplishing anything. If we can’t come with a solution, we need to table this,” he said.

Crider and Campbell repeated their support for a five-year connection requirement, the same timeframe in the original ordinance. And Brewer again voiced his discontent, explicitly laying out his resolve.

“This is my last council meeting, but I don’t care if we stay here until midnight,” he said.

Cohen pointed out the implausibility of building all contingencies into one ordinance. The new administration could later modify any approved regulations.

“They’re going to have the opportunity to come back and improve this,” the mayor said.

In the end, everything did indeed come full circle when the council voted 4-3 to pass the ordinance with the 10 years reduced back to five.

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