Whidbey News-Times


Engineer to eye Greenbank Farm sewer issues

By NATHAN WHALEN Whidbey News-Times Staff reporter
November 3, 2013 · Updated 11:19 AM

Port of Coupeville leaders say they’re concerned the septic system at Greenbank Farm may need to be redesigned.

The Washington State Department of Health attached a string of conditions to a permit for the farm’s large, onsite sewer system, prompting the Port of Coupeville to hire an engineer to come up with modifications to ensure it functions without being a threat to public health or the environment.

The system was originally installed by the farm’s previous owner, Chateau St. Michelle, with the hopes of transforming the farm into a public event facility, said Port of Coupeville Executive Director Jim Patton.

The system was designed for a peak capacity of 5,000 gallons of waste per day.

Activities at the farm have changed over the years, however, and the system isn’t capable of handling the different kinds of waste, including oil and grease that come from a restaurant and a pie production facility, officials say.

“The system was not built to digest all of those things,” Patton said.

Over the past four years, staff has been “Band-Aiding” solutions and was reporting the situation to the state Department of Health.

For example, Patton said, grease traps were installed at the restaurant and kitchen, and staff faithfully cleaned those traps. Nonetheless, grease found its way into the septic system.

Patton reported the situation to the state Department of Health and worked to find a solution.

The Health Department officials have been improving their efforts in monitoring such large onsite sewer systems

Island County has 52 such systems.

“The concern  is, they aren’t being properly maintained,” said Denise Lahmann, LOSS program manager for the state Health Department.

Until three years ago, the Department of Health didn’t have the staff to perform such work.

Now staff is looking at permits in greater detail. She said there are about 600 such sewer systems throughout the state.

“We believe we need to hold system holders and operators accountable,” Lahmann said.

If problems arise with a system, she said, the Health Department will work with the owner to come up with logical, financially-feasible solutions.

In the case of Greenbank Farm, she said the first thing is to learn more about its septic system.

The Health Department asked for water quality monitoring data from the Greenbank Farm.

There’s concern that the large amount of fats and oils will coat pipes and fill the pores that lead into the soil.

It’s likely additional treatment will be needed for the high-strength waste that is going on the farm’s sewer system, Lahmann said.

Lahmann said she is pleased with the level of cooperation coming from the port.

To meet conditions of the state permit, port staff must clean the pump, siphon chamber, drain and inspection ports. They must also develop a cleaning plan.

The port must submit documentation to the health department by the end of the year.

The Port of Coupeville must hire a licensed engineer by April 2014. That engineer will evaluate the system and design any modifications to ensure the farm’s system protects public health and the environment.

Approved modifications must be completed by April 2015 and installed within a year.

Patton said he is confident the port has enough money to hire the engineer and complete the design work.

To change the septic system, Patton said the port will need to seek grant funding.

The Port of Coupeville is seeking $70,000 from the Rural County Economic Development Fund.

Money for that fund comes from a .09 percent sales tax rebate from the state.

Patton said applications for the fund opens in April 2014.

“We will be working on a request,” Patton said.


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