City criticized for slow, incomplete response to sewer spill

City Council members on Monday questioned whether the city’s response to the Eagle Harbor sewer leak was too slow and not comprehensive enough to ensure the health and safety of people and the environment.

Councilwoman Kim Brackett, who visited the leak site near the Winslow ferry terminal shortly after it was identified on Saturday, was unimpressed with the city’s efforts to protect the marine ecosystem and clean the beach of solid waste.

“This is a very significant environmental issue for the health of Puget Sound,” she said during a council Public Works Committee meeting. “Was there an effort to capture (the waste) and pickup the tissue paper sitting on the beach? I was a little stunned to not see anybody there to clean it up.”

The corroded, 32-year-old pipe blamed for the leak, which spilled an estimated 140,000 gallons of sewage into the harbor, was repaired Tuesday morning. Public works crews had installed a temporary band on the pipe on Sunday, after about 70,000 gallons of solid and liquid waste flowed freely into the harbor. The band halted the flow of solids but not liquid effluent, allowing an additional 70,000 gallons of sewer water to escape.

Assistant Public Works Director Lance Newkirk said high tides delayed repair work until early Tuesday morning, when an extremely low tide was expected.

Responding to Brackett, Newkirk declined to assess the city’s response to the spill.

“I’m not prepared to comment on how well – or not well – we did,” he said.

Brackett pushed Newkirk to comment on the spill’s damage to the environment.

“I’m speaking for the fish and the marine life,” Brackett said.

“That’s not my expertise,” Newkirk responded. “I cannot comment on that.”

Brackett urged the city to hire a consultant to assess the spill’s environmental impacts.

Prolonged sewer and septic releases can foster algae “blooms” that deplete oxygen from water. But occasional sewer leaks, even of 140,000 gallons, have little lasting effect on the Sound’s health, said state Department of Ecology spokesman Larry Altose.

“As awful as a sewer release sounds, the impact of this size of spill is short-term,” he said, noting that sunlight and other organisms will quickly kill or eat most of the sewage contaminants within days.

Ecology will investigate the city’s response to the spill and may issue fines of up to $10,000 for every day water quality rules were violated. The city’s track record of sewer pipe inspections and maintenance may receive special scrutiny, Altose said.

“We can fine, but that’s not the point,” he said. “The point is to have lessons learned and have the proper steps for prevention.”

The spill poses a temporary threat to public health, according to Kitsap County Health District officials. The district on Sunday issued a 10-day no-contact advisory for all of Eagle Harbor and the island’s east shoreline from Yeomalt Point to Rockaway Beach. Health officials also cordoned off a portion of the spill site and posted warning signs.

The health district is conducting water quality tests in the harbor this week. Preliminary results were expected late Tuesday.

Councilman Bill Knobloch said some residents feel that the city’s response to the spill took too long. While expressing sympathy for the repair challenges, Knobloch asked why the city didn’t have around-the-clock crews attempting to clean the area and repair the pipe.

“Why not do it all Hollywood, with all the lightning and rain,” he said.

“I understand the perception of city inaction,” Newkirk answered. “But we are working to get it repaired as soon as we can.”

Crews had waited until early Tuesday when tides would allow about five hours of uninterrupted work. Newkirk said potential additional damage may have required a three-hour effort to replace a portion of the pipe. As it turned out, crews needed only an hour and a half to install a rubberized metal sleeve to the corroded section.

Knobloch also echoed concerns that the city delayed public notice of the spill. The city’s first notice was e-mailed and posted on the city’s website shortly after 10 a.m. on Monday, about 43 hours after the spill was reported to the city.

Members of the local press were notified of the spill on Sunday when they were forwarded an internal e-mail sent from the public works department to public officials.

City public information officer Cathie Currie said the city was deferring public notice to the health district.

“The health district is the lead organization for public notifications for shoreline pollution incidents,” she said on Tuesday. “We wanted to make sure we were providing correct information.”

Currie admitted that the city should have acted faster to get information out.

“The lesson for me is to send out something quick rather than wait for perfect information,” she said.

7 thoughts on “City criticized for slow, incomplete response to sewer spill

  1. Just another example of a poorly run City. Thank goodness that the leader is out and maybe the Council in the future will get the message delivered that the employees of Baibridge Island Gov’t work for the people of this fair Island and what the expectations are. The Mayor was a poor and ill equipped manager, a poor leader, and never did respect the wants and desires of the majority so why should the employees?

    It is so so important to set objectives, targets and expectations if the employees are ever to meet the expectations of those who pay their salaries. And to this point there are some employees, red beard and all, who should immediately upon the form change be let go as they have always worked from their own book of wants and needs and have always been the big thorn that has caused allot of issues in the planning dept. I hope the City manager, whomever he turns out to be, addresses the personnel problems so that the citizen taxpayer attitudes towards the City improves. For sure it will to some degree with the Mayor gone now lets address the others.

  2. Let’s just change our name to Blamebridge Island and be done with it,and then all the mad dog blowhards will feel more at home. ” Oh it’s the evil 4 or the evil 5, bark! bark! bark! grrrr! grrr! snap! snap! snap! grrr!”

  3. Listen ” Big wind. big dust no rain Yo Doe “, these five made a mess out of our City, its financial situation, and the general moral of the people. Should we just forget about this or keep it high on the list to insure it doesn’t repeat itself? Call me what you like but I plan to keep this in front of the people to insure we do a better job of understanding who it is we vote into office. We don’t need to put people in charge who could care less what it is the voter/taxpayers see as priorities.

  4. Smitty, we could not agree with you more. Those that don’t want to be reminded of the mistakes we made in electing the mayor and the four council people referred to have their heads in the sand and likely will repeat the same in the future. Keep this mess infront of us so we make amens this Nov. for past errors.

  5. Starting today Brackett, Knobloch & the rest won’t be able to keep themselves removed from “the city”. The council is now in charge and they can’t simply blame a mayor & city staff for all the ills in the world. Their city manager reports directly to them. I assume that when an event of issue happens, the city manager notifies at least the council chair of what happened and what is planned to deal with it. The chair should notify fellow council members and now everyone is in the loop.

    Ms. Brackett doesn’t like how something is handled, she now only look in a mirror to see who to blame. When are these council people going to learn that THEY ARE the city government. I know old habits die hard, but they really need to get their act together as they now have the FOG that they wanted.

    As far as wanting to spend thousands on a “study”, that is pure stupidity. Not only is it unnecessary (look at what all the state & county experts are telling them), but just where is all the money for that going to come from? Only the feds can print money Ms. Brackett. As far as Knobloch’s comments, kinda out of touch & goofy. Something I would normally expect from a person that eats paint chips.

  6. Sorry if I offended you with the mad dog comment.It wasn’t specifically aimed at you. It was just generally aimed at the constantly repeated and reprinted same old letter that does nothing to help the situation at hand. Ok, we need some new people and some new ideas. Let’s work on that and get on with the business at hand.

  7. Yes, I too was frustrated with the mayor, some council members & some decisions made by the city. Yes, I too voted for the change in FOG. However we now have(supposedly) a new way of conducting business. I would like us to move forward on that and get out of the ruts of the past. That includes present council members:

    a) Always blaming “the city” no matter what the issue. No “we”.
    b) Always wanting to spend sums of money on consultants or studies.
    c) Never having the fortitude to tell constant whiners to take it
    d) Never coming up with ideas for improvement on their own, instead
    of always waiting for something to be brought to them to dissect.
    e) Always putting essential services (water, sewage, roads & public
    safety) behind social spending or interest group desires.

    Until folks actually change their behaviors & actions, they can talk up a storm and it doesn’t amount to jack squat.

Comments are closed.