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Sewage plant on the way

After years of behind-the-scenes planning, Port Orchard will break ground on the $20 million Karcher Creek Sewage Treatment Plant expansion late next month.

“It didn’t seem like it would ever get going,” said Karcher Creek Sewer District Commissioner Bill Huntington.

The first phase — the entire earthworks portion of the project — is expected to be relatively quick and cheap. Although public works projects are usually bid as one unit, the city and Karcher Creek decided to advertise the earth work separately in order to streamline the process and guard against delays.

It also gives them more time to work on Phase II of the project — the full description of which is now up to 168 pages.

Phase I, expected to cost $1.33 million, involves leveling approximately .4 acres between the existing sewer plant and the property line it shares with Retsil Veterans Home.

Retaining walls will keep the steep slope of the site in place and security fences will keep the treatment tanks secure. Construction on this portion is expected to start as early as next month — the only obstacle left is obtaining permission from Retsil for an easement that would allow the project to go forward.

“We’ve complied with everything they’ve asked for — signs, fences,” said City Councilman John Clauson, who sits on the council’s Solid Waste Committee. “I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t (give permission).”

While work on Phase I is underway, the city will run the final workup on Phase II past the state Department of Ecology. Although it will take an estimated two months for the agency to return its final judgement, RH2 — the engineering firm hired to handle the design and engineering on the project — is confident the city will get the approval it’s looking for.

“We do have a new concept here, so we gave (DOE) a tremendous amount of materials during the planning stages,” said RH2 regional manager Paul Gilligan. “The DOE is very excited about this plant.”

The proposal is expected to be sent to DOE sometime next week. If approved, bids would go out in May or June with construction likely starting in August. The expansion is expected to open in late 2005.

Phase II is expected to cost more than $13 million. The new equipment needed for the expansion — the centerpoint of the whole project — was bid separately last year and costs approximately $1.5 million.

The expansion, expected to improve wastewater quality and accommodate future growth in both the city’s and Karcher Creek’s districts, hinges on a new water treatment technology.

Instead of churning the sewage around in large tanks and using microbes to consume the unwanted contaminants, the new treatment system will use tube-shaped membranes to literally suck the clean water out of the sludge and leave the solids behind.

For now, the two systems will work in tandem and produce a combined effluent that is higher-quality than that currently being produced. Future upgrades could eventually convert the entire plant to membrane technology.

Although the siphoned-off water from the membranes is probably safe to drink, the Karcher Creek and the city hope to one day implement a gray-water reclamation center that would use the cleaned effluent for irrigation and other non-food uses.

Because the membranes are installed as cartridges, it will also be easy for old membranes to be changed out and extra ones to be dropped in as the city’s sewer demand increases.

The project has been in the works since 1997, when the plant handled more than 85 percent of its capacity three months in a row.

“That’s the trigger that Ecology uses,” Gilligan said.

When the current proposed expansion is complete, the plant’s total potential capacity will go from 2.8 million gallons per day to 4.8 million gallons per day. A second membrane-based expansion now in the planning stages would bump the plant’s capacity to 6.8 mgd while taking up only an additional .3 acres.

The expansion now under way is expected to handle the area’s growing sewer needs through 2013 or 2015, based on conservative growth estimates. Even when using aggressive estimates, the plant will still be good through at least 2008.

Most of the total project cost will be funded through loans. The loans, which come through the state’s Public Works Trust Fund, will cover approximately $16.8 million of the total cost. The remaining $3 million or so will be paid out of the city’s and Karcher Creek’s facilities funds and latecomers’ fees — money levied against houses which joined the sewer system after the plant was built.

The loan will have to be paid back, but at a rate of .5 percent over 20 years. This will be shouldered by the rate payers in both the Port Orchard district and the Karcher Creek Sewer District, which shares use of the treatment plant.

Karcher Creek rate-payers are not expected to face rate increases because the last increase took the expansion costs into account. The potential impact to city rate-payers has yet to be calculated.

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