City's sewer expansion deadline looms

Port Orchard is still juggling a Zee-weed storage problem, but it appears the city’s much-anticipated sewage treatment plant expansion is set to begin next summer as planned.

The $13 million expansion hinges on a relatively new “membrane” technology that would allow the city to get rid of its bulky clarifiers. The membranes, which come in the form of narrow tubes, suck wastewater into their interiors via a mesh of tiny pores. The pores separate the water from the contaminants, which are too large to fit through.

The membranes, which the city is contracted to purchase from a company named Zenon, come in cartridges holding hundreds of strands of the “Zee-weed.” When the membrane finally becomes too clogged to work properly, Karcher Creek Sewage Treatment Plant workers can simply pop out the old cartridges and pop in the new.

The city had to buy the cartridges first, then design the plant around them — each membrane manufacturer uses a slightly different setup for its products. The plan hit a snag mid-summer when the city found out the membranes had to be stored in water at all times, lest they dry out and become useless.

Port Orchard City Councilman John Clauson, who chairs the council’s water and sewer committee, said the city attorney has been trying to work out a deal that allows the city to pay for the membranes now, but not pick them up until the plant is finished. There are some legal issues surrounding this plan, particularly the question of what happens if Zenon takes the money but doesn’t deliver the membranes.

Nevertheless, Clauson said he is confident the issue will be worked out to the city’s satisfaction.

“It’s not a monstrous problem,” Clauson said. “Worst case: Deliver them and we’ll store them in water.”

To speed things up, though, the committee hopes to split the earthworks portion of the project off from the rest of the contracted work and bid it out separately. Clauson said such a move could conceivably save the city a lot of time and money if the diggers run into a major obstacle — like a seashell, Clauson joked.

A work stoppage on the earthworks — a job that requires building a major retaining wall where the treatment plant’s property abuts Retsil Veterans Home — could bring the entire project to a halt and force the city to pay the workers to just stand around. By subcontracting the work, Clauson explained, problems with the earthworks would not affect workers on other portions of the project.

“There really isn’t much of anything in the way of a disadvantage,” Clauson said. “If we don’t find anything we’re worried about in the ground, we’ll actually be ahead of schedule.”

At the regularly scheduled City Council meeting on Monday, the committee is planning to request formal council approval for the split. Time is of the essence, because the city needs to get the final engineering designs to the state Department of Ecology by the first week in December in order to stay on schedule.

The DOE has promised a 60-day turnaround of the plans — as opposed to the usual 90 — if the city meets the December deadline.

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