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City nabs $10 million loan for sewage plant expansion

Port Orchard has been waiting nearly a month to find out whether or not the state legislature will budget enough money to cover the $10 million loan it offered the city in January to help pay for the Karcher Creek Sewage Treatment Plant expansion.

Even though Gov. Gary Locke is backing the loan and the money looks likely to materialize, city staff are not willing to take a deep breath until the legislature concludes its 2002 session March 14.

“Nothing’s safe until the legislative session is ended,” said city engineer Larry Curles. “(However,) it’s 99 percent sure — some of us are just superstitious.”

If the funding comes through, the award means the city will not have to issue bonds or levy special fees against ratepayers as it did when the plant was first built in the mid-1980s.

The loan, which comes through the state’s Public Works Trust Fund, will cover most of the cost of the expansion, currently estimated at $13 million. The remaining $3 million will be paid out of money the city saved from fees it levied against houses that joined the sewer system after the plant was built. These “late-comer fees” were implemented to make sure people who hooked up after the bonds were passed didn’t get a free ride into the district.

The cost for those in the sewage plant’s scope back in the 1980s — which included areas beyond the district boundaries — was approximately $900 per household.

“We were fortunate in securing this loan,” said Councilman John Clauson, who chairs the solid waste committee. “As it stands right now, we’ve got it covered.”

The loan will have to be paid back, but at a rate of .5 percent over 20 years. This will be shouldered by the ratepayers in both the Port Orchard district and the Karcher Creek Sewer District, which shares use of the treatment plant. Karcher Creek ratepayers are not expected to face rate increases because the last increase took the expansion costs into account. Curles said he has no idea whether city district customers’ rates will go up, or how large an increase would be.

“The recommendation from the staff is that we put the payments into the yearly budget for the sewage plant,” Curles said. “Then we’ll look at it. I honestly don’t know — I’ll have to look at (rate increases) real hard. I definitely don’t want to say the rates aren’t going to increase.”

City treasurer Kris Tompkins also was unwilling to speculate on the project’s effect on rates.

“I have a whole bunch of questions myself on how this is going to be set up,” she said.

One of the conditions of the loan states the city must start construction within a few months of signing off on the money. Clauson, for one, doesn’t see that as a problem.

The sewer expansion is dependant on a new “membrane” technology for water purification. The bid for the membrane cartridges will be going out to bid by the end of the month. The bid award will mark the start of project construction because the cartridges will be such an integral part of the finished plant.

In fact, Clauson said, differences in cartridge configuration mean much of the plant — particularly the clarifying tanks — will need to be designed around the cartridges the city eventually buys. The membranes work by trapping solid particles and allowing clean water to pass through. A bubbler in the tank keeps the particles from clogging the membranes’ pores.

The membranes will need to be changed periodically, but the cartridge-style design will make them relatively easy to switch out. By using the membranes, the plant will be able to double its capacity while only taking up xx,xxx square feet of extra room.

Although the new technology seems to be a bit of a hassle to build into a plant, Clauson emphasizes the benefits of using membranes are well worth any minor design inconveniences.

“This membrane technology will clean that water well enough, it’ll pretty much just be water,” he said. “If you held it up to a glass of tap water, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”

Of course, it’s not quite up to the standards of drinking water, but Clauson is optimistic about possible future uses for the effluent. One of his pet projects involves re-routing the effluent for use irrigating the city’s green spaces. He even suggesting installing a smaller array of membranes at McCormick Woods, treating its sewage on site and using the effluent to water the golf course.

“We’re also considering that for the (South Kitsap Industrial Area),” Clauson said.

McCormick Woods is already served by Port Orchard’s sewer district and the city is currently in the process of extending sewer lines out to SKIA, an area which includes Bremerton National Airport.

The loan also stipulates the construction must be completed in four years.

“That better not be a problem,” Clauson said with a laugh. “It didn’t take us that long to build the plant to begin with.”

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