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Sewer liner prompts lawsuit by city

The city of Oak Harbor may have to sue over sewage, or more precisely, over big holes in a liner that keeps sewage from leaking into the ground.

City council members unanimously voted Tuesday night to authorize a lawsuit against an out-of-state contractor, R & R Environmental, that removed sludge from a sewage lagoon cell at the Seaplane treatment facility in 2002. The city contracts with the Navy to run the lagoons.

City Attorney Phil Bleyhl said the problem began when part of the liner of a sewage lagoon floated up to the water line. To investigate the problem, he said workers drained the lagoon and “squeegeed” sludge from a quarter of the liner, revealing numerous slashes through it. He said a number of engineers unanimously concluded that the damage “was due to the way it was dredged.”

The city retained an attorney, Dan Heffernan of Bellevue, to give advice about the problem. His advice was to immediately file a lawsuit against the company.

According to Bleyhl, the city may also have to sue the bonding company and possibly the city’s own insurance company. He said a demand was made on the bonding company last September, but the company declined liability. Also, he said the city’s insurance company has investigated the case, but “has indicated that it may deny coverage.”

And the cost could be high. Bleyhl said replacing and installing the liner would cost an estimated $350,000 and the sludge removal could cost another $350,000. If the area underneath the liner is also damaged or needs to be cleaned up, he said the pricetag could be even higher.

“We’re talking serious dollars here,” he said.

State officials concluded that the sand surrounding the particular lagoon acts as a filter, Bleyhl said, so it’s not an immediate hazard to the environment. But he wants to fix the problem quickly because it affects the capacity of the operation. The plan is to remove sludge from the entire lagoon by the end of June.

The council members agreed to set aside $30,000 from the waste water fund to cover the litigation costs.

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