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Manchester residents gather for sewer Q&A

More than 50 citizens gathered in the Manchester Public Library on Tuesday to send their sewage questions straight to the top, getting answers from the local officials in charge of the Yukon Harbor Restoration Project.

The debate between those Manchester residents who want to pursue a sewer extension and those who want to keep their on-site septic systems has been raging since an influx of failing systems extended the ongoing attention of the health district.

Rick Gagnon, senior program manager for the Kitsap County Public Works Division, along with Stuart Whitford and Michael Drew from the Kitsap County Health District, attended to meeting on their own time to address citizen questions.

Drew is currently leading the Yukon project.

“The main thing we want to keep in mind tonight,” said Manchester resident Bob Lamb, who presented the speakers, “(is that) these three gentlemen are here to explain and educate.”

According to the Kitsap County Health Department, the Yukon Harbor Restoration Project began in 2001 when bacteria was found to have polluted the shoreline.

The project focuses on finding the causes of and correcting the pollution by monitoring the Yukon Harbor Watershed, including the shoreline from Point Southworth to Manchester Dock, Curley Creek, Long Lake and Salmonberry Creek.

According to Drew, three shoreline surveys have identified 30 “hot” locations where fecal bacteria was draining to the beach.

Drew said the majority of the problem comes as a result of failing on-site septic systems.

“Our goal is to mitigate any problem that is a health hazard to beaches,” he said. “We’re finding the problems. People are working to solve the problems... being responsible and trying to help us.”

According to Drew, sickness can occur when individuals or pets ingest large doses of bacteria or a cut on the body is exposed.

Though it is much easier for children to get sick, the likelihood is low.

Drew said there are no fecal counts in the saltwater and most of the danger lies in certain streams feeding the beach.

When counts are especially high, warning signs are posted, but often ignored.

“We have a public health situation for the beaches,” Whitford said. “We’re trying to fix them now.”

However, Drew acknowledged fixing systems can be expensive, sometimes up to $20,000, and some residents simply cannot afford a permanent fix right away.

“It’s a delicate balance,” Drew said. “It’s a real hardship for some people. We try to solve the problems temporarily.”

“Some of us want to pay our mortgages down,” said Manchester resident Nora Rainwater.

Drew said Yukon residents are surprisingly knowledgable about their septic systems.

As residents started weighing their options, Drew explained the pollution could not be solved just by fixing the failing systems, or even going on sewer, because contamination can come from farms as far away as Long Lake Road.

“I’d be happy to see a sewer system,” Drew said, explaining it might work better for a marine community. “Sewer’s a better solution to that situation, but, at the same time, there’s the ideal and then there’s reality. “I believe in septic systems. I prefer them for my own situation. Septic system can operate and it can operate very well. My feeling is, how you treat your system is crucial.”

According to Drew, septic systems fail when drainfields “pond up.” The flooding of drainfields, by rain, groundwater flowing down a hillside, even to much activity from the residence, can render a tank unable to perform.

One solution is a curtain drain, a drain that diverts groundwater from the drainfield.

Another solution? Sewers.

According to Whitford, the state used to have a program that would loan money for projects at zero percent interest.

However, the program was closed because residents were not proactive in repaying the money.

Whitford said the Health District is currently building up $250,000 of public money for a similar program. A bank will oversee fund distribution and all loans must be used to repair failing septic systems.

Whitford estimates the program may be underway in as little as two years.

“Grant monies are pretty limited and very competitive,” Gagnon said. He said he is willing to work with any formed Local Improvement District (LID) on where the boundaries of a proposed sewer extension will fall, but not until an LID is formed.

“You have to make sure you have solid support,” Gagnon said.

A committee materialized Tuesday night, dedicated to pursuing a Council goal of making sewer available for all Manchester residents.

The committee — Ron Rada, Mark Rebelowski, Gail Solimine and Debbie Trudeau — will report to the Council at its next meeting Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m. in the Manchester Library.

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