Northwest NEWS

December 14, 1998

Local News

RWQC recommends northern treatment plant

by Andrew Walgamott, staff reporter

   SEATTLE--A regional water committee recommended that King County pursue Executive Ron Sims's plan to build a third wastewater treatment plant, possibly in south Snohomish County.

   The $1.1 billion plan to increase treatment capacity will now go to the full council for a vote sometime early next year. Under Sims' plan, a new treatment plant would be built in north King or south Snohomish counties by 2010; a new outfall pipe would be built to Puget Sound; the Renton plant would be expanded by 2020; repair of old and leaking systems would be spurred and new ways to use reclaimed water would be investigated.

   County officials have argued it presented a more equitable solution than merely expanding two existing plants which other alternatives plans called for. But a group of Republican and Democratic county councilmembers from King and Snohomish counties whose districts may be affected by it are questioning the plan. Both north end county councilwomen who sit on the Regional Water Quality Committee (RWQC), Louise Miller and Maggi Fimia, voted against the plan Sims' endorsed on a sunny day beside Lake Washington last April.

   Fimia has been the most outspoken, saying that the plan got top billing, though other strategies, including one $300 million cheaper she says would provide the same capacity, were still on the table. She said the benefits of Sims's plan haven't been sufficiently demonstrated.

   "The county's own data demonstrates more than enough room for gradual expansion within existing facility compounds to meet regional capacity needs and protect water quality at less cost to ratepayers," said Fimia, a Shoreline Democrat.

   But she was up against RWQC chair Councilman Larry Phillips, who represents the Magnolia area where there already is a treatment plant, West Point. It was the last plant to be expanded. Residents there say a plant should go where there's growth.

   Phillips was heartened that RWQC members took the time for "thorough research and deliberation. It was too important a decision to rush."

   The need to increase capacity is based on projections that population within King County's treatment service area will double by 2010, potentially backing sewage into houses and out into the streets if nothing is done. The RWQC has been studying the issue for the past year, following up on more than five years of research, review, and public input.

   Though an exact site has yet to be officially chosen, the Bothell area is being bantered about as a possible home.

   Fimia also expressed concern that Snohomish County isn't represented on the RWQC. King County's system serves a significant portion of south Snohomish County that includes Bothell, Brier, Mill Creek, and the Grace area. Besides an alternate member, the RWQC is dominated by King County officials from the county council, City of Seattle, suburban cities, and sewer districts.

   "This project stands to have a considerable impact on Snohomish County," worries Dave Somers, a Democratic Snohomish County councilman from Monroe. "I do not feel that a representative number of elected officials within Metro's Snohomish County service area have been adequately consulted or informed, nor has there been adequate discussion of actual cost, the siting process, and environmental considerations."

   Louise Miller, King County Council chair, maintains she is committed to a thorough review of the plan. "I want to hold additional public informational meetings, ask the council's budget staff to review the financial assumptions and get expert analysis by an independent consultant," the Woodinville Republican said.

   As it stands, Sims's plan will be paid for by increasing charges for new connections, reconnections, or new services so that existing customers pay for the existing system and new customers pay for growth.

   "I had two goals as chairman," said Phillips. "I wanted a plant that was fair for the ratepayers and also protected the environment. The alternative we chose ... does have a hefty price tag, but we found a way to spread out the costs to lessen the individual impact. I think keeping our water clean and healthy for people and fish is worth the price."

   The full county council will vote on the plan in early 1999.