Editorial: Help cities with sewers

Oak Harbor is embarking on a process to build a badly needed wastewater treatment plant that already looks more costly than city residents can afford.

The present sewer system is outdated and is incapable of turning treated sewage into pure water that can be sipped out of a champagne glass. But that’s the goal in modern treatment technology. Some cities are actually recycling wastewater into drinking water.

But that technology costs a lot of money, more than Oak Harbor has available and more than taxpayers and rate-payers can likely afford. The early guesstimate is that a modern plant would cost $70 million. Divide that by approximately 7,500 households and it’s hard to come up with a financing plan that is affordable.

The unincorporated Whidbey Island community of Freeland is in a similar situation. It has needed a sewer plant for years, but has yet to come up with something affordable.

This is where the state and federal governments should be doing more. Low interest loans and other financial help are available to communities, but not nearly enough. A clean environment, particularly a clean Puget Sound, is a high state and national priority. The state’s land use plan funnels more population into the cities. That’s fine, but the state should do more to help those cities handle the increased infrastructure needs. Meanwhile, the federal government should direct more stimulus money to environmental projects like sewer plants.

It’s up to our elected representatives to see that more money is available to small communities in need of modern wastewater treatment facilities. This is an election year, so make sure you know where your representatives stand on this issue. Without more state and federal help, it’s going to be tough to clean up our act here on Whidbey Island.

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