Sewage from the Navy’s Seaplane Base may someday flow to the city of Oak Harbor’s bright and shiny new treatment plant.
Officials from the city and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island are talking about the possibility of hooking the Navy property into the city’s system at some point in the future, Oak Harbor Mayor Bob Severns said.
This is a turnaround from three years ago, when the city asked the Navy to be a partner in the construction of the new plant, which is located downtown, but the Navy turned down the offer.
At the time, Navy officials said they were unable to make a commitment on the cost-sharing agreement because of funding limitations and government regulations.
Councilman Rick Almberg, who’s been closely involved in monitoring the project, said he’s in favor of negotiating with the Navy.
Almberg said having the Navy hook into the system could help to control rates for sewage treatment.
But, he said, it’s essential that the Navy pay its way.
“I don’t want to be subsidizing another government agency at the expense of ratepayers,” he said.
Sewage treatment currently costs ratepayers $89.36 a month. Under a 2016 ordinance, the rate is set to increase to $135.90 a month by 2021.
Severns, however, said he was told by staff that a new rate study finds that the cost may not have to be as high as originally predicted.
The city’s sewage treatment plant would have been built larger if the Navy had been partnered with the city from the outset. Still, it has plenty of capacity, Almberg said, although adding the Navy as a customer would affect the lifespan of the facility.
The city currently operates sewage treatment lagoons, which are owned by the Navy and located on the Seaplane Base.
Once the city’s new treatment plant comes online at the end of the year, the city will hand those operations over to the Navy.
City officials say the lifespan of the lagoons is coming to an end. In the past, city staff warned about the possibility of an accidental discharge from flooding at the lagoons, which is surrounded by environmentally sensitive habitat.
Mike Welding, base public affairs officer, explained that the Navy hired a consultant “to provide technical support for turnover of the plant to the Navy and to identify long-term Navy wastewater treatment alternatives for the Seaplane Base.”
One of the alternatives the Navy is exploring, he confirmed, is for the Navy to become a customer of the city’s new sewage treatment plant at some point in the future.
In the short term, the Navy is pursuing a National Pollution Discharge Elimination Standard operating permit from the Environmental Protection Agency to operate the sewage treatment lagoons.