Road and sewer planning begins for real in Kitsap

Progress changes things. For instance, your parents never needed to learn the world “infrastructure.” But that term, loosely applied to define the support system needed for growth, has become an oft-repeated one as Kitsap County attempts to plan for its future.

The county expects a population increase of 100,000 over the next few years, which will increase the need for adequate sewer and road systems. These two needs are linked since they both must be developed to accommodate the expected population influx.

“We need to know how we are going to get the infrastructure built,” said South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel. “It will affect all of our future development, and we need to find ways to finance the program. The problem is that it’s a moving target. Everything will be different in five or 10 years.

“You almost need a crystal ball,” she said. “But we need to come up with a reasonable plan.”

Predictably enough, the biggest obstacle to sewer and road construction is its cost. This can be as simply defined as the cost of asphalt, which has recently tripled. Or it can be more complicated — if a facility isn’t in place when a disaster hits, the cost can exceed what it would have cost to build the system in the first place.

“It is always a question of money,” Angel said. “Gorst has needed a sewer system for some time and we’ve looked for different ways to pay for it. We thought of a property tax levy lift, but found the money raised wouldn’t pay for the system.

“But this is a real health issue,” she said. “If we have another big rain, it could go from bad to worse instantly and we would have to fix it right away. So there is no easy way to get a sewer.”

North Kitsap Commissioner Steve Bauer has proposed the creation of a Utilities Capacity and Funding Task Force, which would include representatives from each city, the county, water utility representatives, builders, developers, environmental groups, community advisory committees and financial experts.

The group would examine each UGA to to assess the needs and availability of water and sewer systems to support its growth.

On Wednesday, the commissioners received a staff report outlining specific infrastructure obligations along with a table listing all of the possible revenue sources. This includes a capital facilities plan complete with an inventory of existing facilities, a forecast of future needs, a proposed location for new facilities and a six-year finance plan identifying funding sources.

In this respect, infrastructure installation resembles solving a complicated puzzle. Sewers can only be constructed within the boundaries of an Urban Growth Area (UGA), which would normally be located adjacent to current city limits.

Aside from this, many areas (both inside and outside of the UGA) have their own water systems and sewer districts.

It will take some work for the county to get a complete idea of the county’s water and sewer structure. Water systems often overlap, and they use inconsistent reporting mechanisms. While many are digitized, others rely on AutoCAD files or even hand-drawn charts to map their systems.

“I’m glad we’re moving forward with a government-sponsored strategy,” said Homebuilders of Kitsap County Executive Director Art Castle. “We need to partner collectively to determine the future of urban areas.”

Castle said the idea of installing sewers has met with “a series of starts and stops” in the past few years. He stressed the importance of a comprehensive sewer map of the whole county, so new services increase efficiency.

“The way things are now, all sewer projects are individually financed,” he said. ”But if there is an overall plan, we’ll know where the stuff needs to go. One regional pump station makes more sense than five or six little ones.”

Castle said control of urban growth is linked to control of infrastructure development. He said local infrastructure construction has followed a wasteful, indirect path.

For example, Castle cited the hypothetical case of the county building a road, then determining sewer lines are needed. This would mean tearing up the road, installing the lines, and putting it all back together again.

But then it’s determined the road needs widening, which means tearing it up again.

Castle suggests that sewer funding can be accomplished through a concerted, cooperative effort between counties, cities and private business.

“Planning is important,” he said. ”If we don’t have a plan, we’ll have the same problems in 20 years.” Added Kitsap County Special Projects Director Eric Baker, “This is a big problem, and we will all need to pony up to solve it.”

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