Sewer plan could hike Coupeville rates

"The bad news is that Coupeville needs a new sewer plan and a lot of work on its wastewater treatment plant that could more than double rates for residents and business owners. The good news is that Coupeville’s going to get a new sewer plan and a lot of work done on its wastewater treatment plant. The Coupeville Town Council approved a $2.3 million Comprehensive Sewer Plan for the town Tuesday.Not one of the council members disputed the need to fix the town’s aging and inadequate wastewater treatment plant. In fact, federal law dictates they must. But that didn’t stop them from worrying about the cost of new plan that will be absorbed by the town’s 481 residences and 107 businesses. If state or federal grants can’t defray the tab, and if repairs and improvements to the town’s waste water treatment plant can’t be completed in phases, sewer utility rates in Coupeville — already the sixth highest in the state — could jump even higher: More than 63 percent for residents — from a current estimated monthly average of $32.93 to $53.78 — and more than 71 percent for commercial users — from an approximate average of $90.09 a month to $64.06. As it stands now, the town’s plan calls for spending more than $2.3 million to expand its treatment plant by the year 2003. Another $1.135 million will repair aging pipes over the next 20 years, but that cost is already figured into existing rates.Councilmember Frank Tippets voted to get the process of design work and grant applications going. But he said he said he thinks it should be phased in more slowly.“However, I do not agree with the idea of raising sewer user fees by the estimated average of $21 a month for residences and $64 a month for businesses in order to complete the total upgrade in one big step,” Tippets read.Tippets suggested that if grant funding couldn’t reduce the rate burden by half, then the work — scheduled to be completed by 2003 — should be done in two stages. The first phase would include enough work to accommodate growth until 2010, when the population is estimated to reach 1,850. The second phase would begin after work is done on the present sewer system, as performance and population dictated. The state is requiring the town to plan for sewer expansion because it operates close to its designed capacity all the time, and sometimes reaches overload. The treatment plant was designed to handle 1,500 people, and now services a town of 1,580. For four consecutive months in one of the wettest winters on record, 1996-97, the plant was forced to process more than 85 percent of its maximum daily capacity, a fact that led the state to require a new plan. Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard said she also hopes that the town can reduce the cost of the plan — and future rates — by obtaining grants.Potential sources for funding include the Public Works Trust Fund Loan Program, Centennial Clear Water Fund, Washington State Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund and the U.S. Department of Agriculture — Rural Development Program.“We’re going to make every effort to explore every avenue as far as grant funding,” Conard said. “The good thing is that although we’ve gone behind the design capacity of the plant, it’s still operating in healthy manner. There is no immediate risk, but we are required by the state to get plans under way to expand the capacity.”Ironically, Conard said, the town couldn’t even begin to apply for the grants until it voted on a plan.“The Catch-22 is, we can’t apply for any grants until the plan is adopted and we also can’t apply for grants until the design of the plant is done,’’ Conard said. “That why we’re going to be bringing back a funding proposal and rate plan next month so that hopefully, we can implement it in January and collect the money we need to fund the design fees.”If grants aren’t forthcoming, Conard said she is also amenable to a gradual fix for the town’s wastewater treatment plant.“The state is going to approve the plan to be constructed in total, to be completed by 2003,” she said. “But to the extent the plant continues to operate in a healthy fashion, we can buy a little time and maybe, phase in some of that construction over a longer period of time.“We’d like to be able to do that because that means rates wouldn’t have to rise so dramatically,” she said. “It depends on a number of factors.”Have your sayCoupeville’s Town Council will meet on Oct.12 and Oct. 26 to discuss the town’s new Comprehensive Sewer and Wastewater Treatment Plant facilities plans. Meetings start at 7 p.m. in the Island County Courthouse Annex at Sixth and Main. "

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