The Mason County Board of Commissioners were poised to vote last week on a $4.5 million extension to the Belfair sewer that would extend it just short of the Puget Sound Industrial Center-Bremerton.
But after a presentation and public hearing on Jan. 31 on the project that drew more than 80 people, the commissioners extended the public hearing and any decision until March 1.
The plans call for the extension to begin at NE Ridge Point Boulevard and run north and east to the area of Belfair Yard Road. The placement of the expansion is in an urban growth area, where development is expected to occur, and the extension would make the sewer connection available when developers come in, said Mason County Administrator Mark Neary.
Discussion about making an extension from Belfair’s state-of-the-art sewer treatment plant — which was unveiled in 2012 — to the Puget Sound Industrial Center-Bremerton have been ongoing for years, with multiple requests to the Legislature to provide funds for the extension.
Project partners determined a phased approach was best, Loretta Swanson, director of Mason County Public Works, said. First, design to accommodate PSIC flow from the southern basins, but delay construction until new development drives the need to connect.
“This project has been going on for a long time,” Neary said.
The latest plan calls for county funds to pay for it, with a revenue bond toward the general obligation debt of the county.
A decision was not made at the hearing whether Mason County will proceed with the sewer extension. Instead, the hearing was extended until March 1 so more questions people have can be answered. It will also give the opportunity for some of the language regarding rate increases to be removed from the original contract, said Commissioner Kevin Shutty.
Based on what county staff recommends on March 1, the hearing could be extended or the project could be put out to bid.
Scope of the project
A recommendation from staff and the hired consultant for the project is what’s called the “alternative three hybrid.” The alternative three hybrid option is related to a planned action environmental impact statement that staff is bringing to the commissioners in February for approval, Neary said. This is a decision regarding zoning and is based on a study of the water resources, cultural resources, transportation, and utilities within the UGA, he said.
“Alt three hybrid does allow for a significant increase in growth within the Belfair UGA. Adoption of the higher density means the county must plan for sewer improvements sooner, rather than later,” said Swanson.
Neary says this is the beginning of the process of defining how the urban growth area is developed. This project will determine how the sewer will be developed north, therefore implying where the urban growth area will grow.
Commissioners have decided to hold sewer rates at $96 per ERU (Equivalent Residential Unit, or the amount charged to a typical single-family home) which has been in place the past four years. Staff is saying right now the project would not result in an impact to rates, Neary said.
Notifications were sent to the public a few weeks ago about the specific recommendation going forward, Neary said. If the board approves the sewer extension, the project would be advertised to be for two to three months before a contractor is hired. Construction would most likely begin in the summer of 2022, Neary said.
Proponents of the project say it would draw development to the urban growth area of Belfair.
Randy Neatherlin, the North Mason commissioner, is opposed to the project as it stands currently.
“Right now QFC pays about $40,000 a year for their sewer,” he said. Rates in Belfair are nearly twice as much as Bremerton, he said. He is opposed to going into more debt over a sewer extension, after Belfair’s original sewer system cost so much to build.
The project would cost the county $4.5 million, which would mean 1,500 equivalent residential units (ERUs) would be needed to break even, Neatherlin said.
The plan is to use a revenue bond toward the general obligation debt of the county.
The county received a direct appropriation grant administered by the Washington State Public Works Board for $2 million to design a sewer extension from the Belfair Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) to the southern portion of the Puget Sound Industrial Center (PSIC), said Swanson.
The grant was executed January, 2020 and expires June 30, 2023. A bid package for the sewer extension is complete. The proposed sewer extension construction cost is estimated to be $4.5 million, including a contingency. The county executed a loan agreement, (also administered by the Washington State Public Works Board), a portion of which is forgivable, Swanson said.
“The mathematics just don’t make sense and that’s the problem I have with it,” Neatherlin said. He believes it’s up to the developer to pay for the infrastructure — not the county, which would be banking on coming development to add ERUs.
“You can’t tax these people out of our problem that we have, you can’t borrow yourself out of debt, and any investment up in those properties needs to be done by the property unit,” Neatherlin said.
If nothing is done, development could still be built, he said. County money shouldn’t be used to benefit a developer without a restriction to get the money back, he said. Currently there’s a church, floral greens company, a transit facility, and a couple of other buildings allowing for four or five ERUs, he said.
“All the rest will be to fund that empty land that’s beside it,” Neatherlin said.
Neatherlin said hundreds of emails were received of people opposed, and many comments and questions during the meeting were also from those opposed to the extension.
Mason County has provided an interactive map on its website with additional details of the Belfair area, including the current Belfair UGA zoning and the Alternative 3 hybrid zoning proposal that is coming before the Board of County Commissioners.