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Gorst sewer plan draws complaints

The bad news was delivered Thursday night to a packed house in Gorst. The county can no longer count on sewers arriving in the area soon enough, so residents must shell out to bring their leaky, patched septic systems up to code.

The reaction was somewhat unexpected.

There was no outcry from residents with failing systems, even though the Kitsap County Health District estimates it could cost thousands of dollars to bring those systems up to code. There were also no protests from low-income folks unable to pay for the mandated upgrades, even though Gorst mostly houses retirees and people looking for inexpensive places to stay.

In fact, most of the 30-odd locals who attended the meeting said they had already funneled thousands — in some cases tens of thousands — of dollars into their systems. Their primary concern was that they would sink even more money into their systems now, only to turn around and shell out even more when sewers arrived in a few years.

“We put $35,000 into this (system),” said D.J. Dougherty, representing Peninsula Subaru. “Three years down the road, we’ll have to put another $35,000 in (to pay for sewer).”

Peninsula Subaru, like the other businesses that hug Sinclair Inlet in Gorst, have been hardest-hit by the drain field-unfriendliness of the area. Stuart Whitford, water quality program manager for the health district, said septic systems at or near the hide-tide mark “puke” raw sewage every time the tide comes in.

Because the whole commercial zone between State Routes 16 and 3 was also built on fill, he continued, the systems don’t even drain all that well when the tide is low.

As early as 1995, the health district noted nearly 15 percent of Gorst’s 341 on-site sewage systems were failing or had failed. In addition, approximately 40 percent of commercial businesses’ sewage systems there showed signs of failure. In many cases, raw sewage was running directly into Sinclair Inlet and Gorst Creek, elevating fecal coliform bacteria levels above national “safe” standards.

In 1997, the state Department of Health declared Gorst a “severe public health hazard” in response to the sewage findings.

Between then and now, some landowners chose to install cheaper temporary fixes and hope sewer would arrive quickly. Others chose not to wait. Toys Topless, located practically at the water’s edge, opted to put in a bio-filtration device rather than continue wrestling with its old system.

“There’s been others who have taken action on their own,” Whitford said, citing the 14 other residences and businesses who now have permanent fixes in place.

The problem is, many residents and business owners pointed out, the people who spent the money want to know they’re going to get their money’s worth out of their new systems. Most didn’t relish the idea of having to scrap their nearly new equipment in order to make room for community sewer.

It didn’t help that health officials were quoting numbers in the $5,000 to $10,000 range as the eventual individual cost of extending sewer to the area. Many complained that even though the district had rejected a $17,000-per-unit cost — offered through a Real Development Grant several years ago — as being too expensive, the cost of system upgrades for those near the water could end up being nearly that.

“When you talk about the cost of the sewer, what about the cost of some of these systems?” asked Gerald Winslow, who owns a strip of commercial properties along SR 16 at the south end of Gorst.

Winslow said he’s probably spent more than $70,000 upgrading the waste systems for his various businesses. He expressed frustration with the grant process that has thus far denied Gorst the means of off-setting the expected $5 million cost of installing sewers there. Winslow said it was difficult to understand how people could get grants to “study horned toads,” but Gorst couldn’t get one to address a serious health issue.

The county plans to continue to aggressively pursue grants for Gorst sewers. Central Kitsap Commissioner Patty Lent, who also attended the meeting, said she recently met with Washington State’s senators and representatives to explain the situation in Gorst and ask for help. The biggest challenge is finding a grant big enough to handle the scope of the Gorst project.

“We need about $2 million or $3 million to bring it down to the realm of possibility,” said Rick Gagnon, senior program manager for the wastewater division of Kitsap Coutny Public Works. “We’re still looking, but there aren’t a lot of large grants available.”

Meanwhile, residents with still-working systems have until Oct. 1, 2003, to sign contacts for yearly maintenance — a measure Whitford said will both keep the systems healthy longer and help identify problems before they start to affect the community.

Those with failing systems have until Oct. 1, 2004, to finish any needed repairs. Whitford said if people refuse to maintain or repair their systems, the district can technically evict them. However, he emphasised that was a “last-last resort” and didn’t anticipate any need to take so drastic an approach.

“I fully expect the vast majority of people are going to comply,” he said.

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