Joint port meeting becomes debate on Gorst

When elected officials gather to talk about sewer problems in South Kitsap these days, they really only seem to be talking about one area — Gorst.

On Thursday, representatives from the Port of Bremerton, Port Orchard, Kitsap County and Karcher Creek Sewer District got together to talk about the port’s future sewer needs with regard to the newly approved South Kitsap Industrial Area, of which it is a part.

The port’s issues got about 10 minutes of talk time before the conversation inevitably turned to Gorst, which, although not a part of SKIA, sits at the crossroads of every future sewer development plan in that area.

“The businessmen are begging someone to do something with sewers down there,” said Gene Lobe, who attended the meeting as an unofficial Gorst representative.

Gorst, where sewers are concerned, is both nobody’s problem and everybody’s problem. The area is heavily urbanized, but not a part of any city or even any city’s urban growth area. And, despite its tightly packed layout, all the homes and businesses in Gorst are wholly dependent on septic systems for their waste disposal needs.

For several reasons, including insufficient drainfield space and a high water table, Gorst’s septic systems fail at a staggering rate. Nevertheless, no one seems willing to step up a pay to bring sewers to the area.

Because of Gorst’s location at the confluence of two major highways, it is expected to be very spendy to lay sewer pipes, not to mention the cost of pumping the waste uphill to either Port Orchard’s or Bremerton’s nearest existing sewer lines.

A limited improvement district could be formed to help the residents fund their own lines but, as Karcher Creek Sewer DIstrict Commissioner Bill Huntington pointed out, many properties in Gorst are worth less than what it would cost to hook them up to a sewer system.

“You can’t assess them for more than the property’s worth,” Huntington said.

Even if grant funds could be found to help pay for the project, the issue remains where to send the waste.

One proposal called for pumping the sewage up SR-3 to the port’s collection ponds by Bremerton National Airport. Port Orchard has already agreed to take over control of those ponds and eventually hook the airport, industrial park and the rest of SKIA up to its sewer lines.

By hooking Gorst up to the ponds now, residents could get an immediate solution to their sewage problems and be one step closer to full sewer service when the port connects.

In addition, if the city got permission from the state Department of Ecology to install a small, membrane-based water treatment plant at the port, the resulting “gray water” could be used to irrigate nearby Gold Mountain Golf Course, thereby saving Bremerton a huge water bill.

Alternatively, regular sewer lines could be extended from Gorst to either the Bremerton Sewage Treatment Plant to the north or to Port Orchard’s lines at McCormick Woods, on Bay Street or in the South Kitsap Industrial Park.

The problem is, Ecology has a policy of not approving small, stand-alone treatment plants and, no matter where the waste is sent, it’s still going to have to be pumped a significant way uphill.

Even the cheapest grinder pumps cost approximately $20,000 per household, according to Karcher Creek District figures.

There also remain more fundamental issues between Gorst and its two municipal neighbors.

Bremerton, in the past, has balked at the idea of taking Gorst’s sewage because its own treatment plant is nearing capacity. Port Orchard’s plant, now in the process of expanding, could easily handle the few hundred gallons per day of waste Gorst generates. However, the city is sensitive to where Gorst connects to its system — the whole western end of Bay Street still needs sewer access, as will the areas surrounding McCormick Woods and possibly Sunnyslope as well.

Where Gorst connects will have a significant impact on which of those areas gets the fastest and cheapest access to sewers in the future.

Port Orchard CIty Councilman John Clauson, who also chairs the council’s sewer advisory committee, said he could agree to any plan that didn’t also address the needs of city residents at the west end of Bay, many of whom are experiencing Gorst-like problems even now. However, other officials pointed out a McCormick Woods connection could pave the way for future gray water recycling at the golf course there — an option that would help reduce the strain on the city’s wells.

In addition, there was still some disagreement over who would pay for the studies that would have to be done to even select an option, let along start work on it.

“This has been the problem,” Lobe pointed out. “We have a meeting, and this is where we stop. We never seem to go any further.”

In response, the officials at the meeting agreed to meet again in one month with cost estimates on all the proposed options and results from any other preliminary studies now underway, including an assessment of individual Gorst property values.

No one necessarily volunteered to take the lead, but the Karcher Creek officials and County Commissioner Jan Angel, speaking for the county, all agreed to contribute financially to further study of the issue.

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