Editorial: Oak Harbor sewer plant’s days are short

Oak Harbor’s Waterwater Treatment Plant is scheduled to be replaced in seven years, and if that actually happens it’s not a second too soon.

Last week, a outfall pipe for the treated sewage burst only 200-feet out from the beach used by the public. True, the waste is treated, but by a very old-fashioned method. Who can forget the demonstration in the City Council chambers some years back, when a glass container filled with “treated” Oak Harbor wastewater was compared to a glass of wastewater “treated” by a modern sewer plant. Oak Harbor’s product was a murky brown while the modern plant produced something that looked as clear as drinking water.

This is no knock on Oak Harbor’s plant operators. They operate the plant at peak efficiency and have won environmental awards for their efforts. But it’s akin a mechanic keeping a 1959 Oldsmobile running as smoothly and cleanly as possible. Regardless of how well done, you simply can’t prepare the output to a modern Prius or Insight, so it’s time to change the basic operating equipment.

To its credit, the city has already hired a consultant to start working on a new treatment plant, one that will make wastewater literally clean enough to drink, or at least use for irrigation. Type of plant is an issue along with operating costs, but just as important is siting. City Beach Park, now called Windjammer, has been marred for decades by the presence of a sewer plant where children should be playing. Every unseemly odor is blamed on the plant, although in many cases it comes from seaweed heated by the sun at low tide. But the plant is a physical eyesore and deterrent to tourism, and must be moved out of the way.

Nobody’s going to want a sewer plant in their neighborhood, but the good of the many outweigh the few. Perhaps a way can be found to screen the new plant, make it odor-free and esthetically pleasing, and build it on the Seaplane Base.

Whatever the solution, it’s time to tackle the issues head-on and speed up the timetable. As last week’s outfall pipe break showed, the present plant’s days are numbered. Its replacement should be a top city priority.

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