Sewer contamination may cost city millions to fix


The city’s got a tough choice on its hands.

By order of the state, the city must invest millions of dollars to redirect a Winslow sewer outfall away from Wing Point’s shellfish beds or pay tens of thousands a year in compensation.

City engineers are scrambling. The City Council will soon be debating. But either way, city coffers will be draining.

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State regulators have given the city a choice: pay an annual fine for a Winslow sewer outfall’s impact on shellfish beds or invest millions of dollars to fix the problem.

After years of negotiating with the city, the state Department of Resources has requested the city submit a plan by September to either make Wing Point geoduck beds safe for human consumption or pay a fee to make up for the loss.

“We’ve been talking for several years about how the city can fix this problem,” DNR resource specialist Lindie Schmidt said. “They did a series of studies and different analysis. So now that all that’s lined up, it’s time for the city to make a decision.”

The city has narrowed its choices down to two, and neither one is going to fit easily within an already stretched city budget.

One option is to pay an estimated $34,000 a year to compensate DNR for the lost harvest revenues the outfall causes. The compensation fee could rise to $50,000, based on growing demand for the giant clam in Asian markets.

The city’s other likely option is to spend roughly $2 million to extend the outfall on the east side of Wing Point almost 2,000 feet into deeper water and away from the geoduck beds.

“We’re trying to work through the problem,” said City Engineer Bob Earl. “With either alternative, we’ll be putting quite a lot of money into (extending) the outfall or into a number of years of paying fees.”

Simply paying an annual fee is not advisable, Earl said.

“We wouldn’t suggest making payments to DNR” as the city’s only course of action, Earl said. “That would be shirking our environmental responsibility.”

DNR, which manages geoducks beds much like public forests, cannot auction the commercial harvest rights for the estimated 290,000 geoducks living within a 700-yard radius of the outfall, according to state health department rules.

Personal-use harvesters and tribes are also prohibited from harvesting geoducks and other shellfish in the outfall area.

Each year, the state and tribes permit the harvest of about 2.7 percent of the Sound’s estimated 194 million pounds of geoducks.

Rather than pay a fee or extend the outfall pipe, DNR’s preference would be for the city to improve its treatment plant’s purification systems and develop a wastewater recycling program for irrigating lawns, flushing toilets and other uses.

A similar wastewater treatment and reuse system is currently under consideration in Central Kitsap.

“What it really comes down to is what people in (Bainbridge) are willing to invest,” Schmidt said. “We have our preference, but we know some communities can’t afford radical improvements. That’s why we’re working with the community to find something they can actually do.”

Public Works staff will formally present a range of options aimed at meeting DNR’s requirements at the City Council’s Public Works Committee meeting on June 16. The council is expected to make a decision sometime this summer.

3 thoughts on “Sewer contamination may cost city millions to fix

  1. “…it’s time for the city to make a decision.”

    They obviously have no idea who they are dealing with.

  2. Seems simple enough – if the City can finance the fix with annual payments that are less than $34k, or $50k – build the extension.

    If not, pay the fine if it is the cheaper way to go.

  3. Making a decision based solely on short term price does not take into account the complexity of the issue. This is about the safety of our families and children to play on the beach, about the preservation of the northwest tradition of digging clams and foraging for shellfish and about Puget Sound habitat preservation and water quality. When you take those factors into account it makes paying the fine unthinkable and extending the pipe a minor improvement, however insufficient. The only real long-term solution that emerges is improving our waste processing capability. If you start putting a value on our children’s health, our tourist dollars and our traditional lifestyle (not to mention the many economically important services shellfish and intact ecosystems provide), a new waste treatment facility starts to look pretty cost effective.

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