SATSOP — How do you improve the sewer system at Satsop Business Park? It’s definitely not a sexy issue to talk about, but it’s been a vexing subject as one idea after another has gone to the wayside.
The latest idea is doing a general sewer study to see just what needs to be fixed and what all of the options are. Although something similar was done back in 2007, Marc Horton, the Port of Grays Harbor director of environmental and engineering services, says that another look needs to be taken before any firm choices are made.
For one thing, the original study concentrated too much on crafting an industrial wastewater facility. And, when that proved to expensive, officials at Satsop Business Park turned their attention to a huge pipeline that would extend from the wastewater treatment center in Elma. And, when even that turned too expensive, Satsop officials wanted to do a feasibility study to see what it would take to install a modular wastewater-treatment system at the business park.
The feasibility study has since turned into a general sewer study.
Why should anyone care?
Better wastewater treatment systems at Satsop Business Park could encourage more businesses to look at it. The original treatment system was installed decades ago for the construction crew working at the former nuclear site. It was never meant to handle waste for the businesses at the site and several interested customers have walked away from Satsop Business Park because of the limitations at the site. To help, the state Legislature has allocated $4 million to resolve the problem, although those dollars could vanish by mid-June 2014 unless improvements are well under way.
Horton says they should be making some firm decisions in the next few months. The Port took over the Satsop Business Park in January, which is when he says he started asking more questions about how the money should be used.
“I’ve held the process up because I didn’t think the general sewer plan we were initially given was good enough,” Horton said. “I asked a whole bunch of questions — have you thought about this, that and the other thing? If answer’s ‘no,’ I wanted to see them figure it out. I’ve done these studies in my consulting career and I’m directing the work now.”
The Legislature had allocated the funds more than a year ago when local legislators were urged on from county commissioners, Elma Mayor Dave Osgood and those at the Satsop Business Park. The funds, at that time, were to be used to help extend the sewer lines from Elma to Satsop Business Park.
State Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, sat on the state Senate Ways & Means Committee. Hatfield, who used to work for the Satsop Business Park, helped insert the funds into the state Capital Budget with the hope that the infrastructure project would create jobs in East County. On the House side, state Reps. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, and Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, spurred the project along.
All three legislators along with state Reps. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen; Dean Takko, D-Longview; and state Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, touted the project as an economic boon for the Harbor last year during campaign forums and legislative stops.
“If this could have worked out with Elma, that would have been the preferred option,” Sen. Hatfield said. “I would have wanted to improve infrastructure for the entire area. But, for me, the first and foremost concern is to try and figure out a way to get wastewater treatment at Satsop. Right now that’s the big question. That’s the bottomline. And I know it was a problem when I was working there trying to recruit businesses. They have lots of water but very limited treatment.”
PIPELINE TOO COSTLY
The problem is that although $4 million was a good chunk of change, it wasn’t enough to fund the whole pipeline project from Elma to Fuller Hill. That had a price tag of $5.9 million. The Public Development Authority, which ran the park at the time, searched for the remaining funds but had no luck.
“We were unsuccessful in identifying how to fund the difference,” Satsop CEO Tammi Garrow told the county commissioners last fall, a few months before she retired. “We discovered our project was ineligible for Public Works Trust Fund financing, and even if it had been, the PWTF had about five times as many requests as they had money, so even if we had been able to somehow solve the problem of how to apply, the likelihood was that funding would not be available — and, that was loan money, not grant money.”
The Public Development Authority abandoned the sewer option.
“It’s a disappointment,” Mayor Osgood said. “We really were hoping it would all work out.”
The county and Public Development Authority had spent a combined $25,000 trying to figure out the different routes a sewer line could take to get up Fuller Hill. Those routes will simply not be used and the money is now gone.
MORE MONEY ALLOCATED
In November, the county commissioners approved $75,000 for the park to conduct a feasibility study to see if a stand-alone system is possible. Those funds, along with the $12,500 the county spent on the sewer line plan to nowhere, has come from a .09 percent sales tax rebate the county gets from the state to invest in economic development and infrastructure projects.
Although all of the paperwork touted a feasibility plan as the way to go, when the Port took over the business park, Horton said that what was really needed was a clear assessment of the current sewer and septic systems in the park and the various alternatives available.
“This has morphed into a general sewer plan and an engineering report and we’re trying to identify what needs to be done to our sewer system from a high-level perspective in order to serve our current and future customers,” said Satsop Business Development Manager Alissa Thurman. “That gives us a great approach because that’s really what we need to do.”
Horton said he’s leaning in favor of a stand-alone treatment plant at Satsop Business Park. Although the park’s original 2007 study by CH2M Hill noted such a plan would cost $15 million to $20 million, Horton said the consultant looked at what it would take to build an industrial treatment plant.
“If you want a treatment plant that can handle anything and anybody it’s going to cost you a bunch of dollars and it’s really not a good idea,” Horton said. “It’s not the best way to go. Under state and federal rules, if you have a publicly-funded treatment plant, it cannot take industrial waste unless the industrial waste is pre-treated to domestic standards. And the reason for that is they don’t want somebody who has an industry taking up all the public treatment capacity with their industrial waste so they require it to be pre-treated.”
Thurman said she has asked for the Elma pipeline to be considered one of the alternatives as part of the general sewer study, but Horton says he doesn’t know how that option will ever pencil out.
Horton said he frankly doesn’t understand why Elma was even looked at to start.
“Elma cannot take industrial waste unless it’s pre-treated so if we go to Elma, what are we getting?” Horton said. “We’ve got to send the sewer all the way down the hill. We’ve got to build a pump station, pump it all the way up the hill to Elma and then we’ve got to come back and build a pre-treatment plant for our industrial facilities and we’ve got to have a plumbing system here to handle our waste. So, we’re essentially going to get nothing out of this but a big long, expensive pipe system. … That’s why the Elma route started to unravel. Plus, who was going to maintain the multi-thousand foot system all the way to Elma and what were the rates going to be? Elma wasn’t going to cut their rates for treatment just because you had a three-mile pipeline. They’re going to charge you just the same. Satsop would have ended up with all of that and all of the treatment charges and really not get much out of it.”
Had today’s technology been in place, Horton says he has his doubts that Stafford Creek would have constructed a giant pipeline from its prison outside Aberdeen to the city’s wastewater treatment facility when, instead, they could have just built a stand-alone modular system like Satsop is considering.
However, Horton says the general sewer plan is the better way to go than automatically assuming they’re going to install a modular wastewater treatment facility.
“We’ve had to back up and say, ‘What truly are our options? We need to look at flows coming out of our facility now, look at the future and what can we dream up? It’s foolish to go launching ahead without assessing what we have with a general sewer plan. And what are some of the options? The options, as I see it, are one treatment plant or two — one in the west park and one in the main park because of the lay of the land and whether you go with one plant you’d pump all sewage from one part of the campus to the other. The decision point will be if its more economical to have two small plants or whether more economical to have a pump station in the west part of the park. The environmental issues, cost issues and all of it needs to be cranked into the formula.”
IMPROVEMENTS COULD START THIS SUMMER
One bit of work that will likely be done this summer is improving the collection system for the existing treatment plant at the park. Whatever improvements are done there could also be used on whatever new system is built. Horton said last week he was about to issue the contract for the collection system.
“When we have a rain event, the treatment center doesn’t work as well as it should and the people up there have done an incredible job managing that small treatment plant in spite of its collection system,” Horton said. “Once the collection system is tightened down, then more businesses can hook up. And they’ll have plenty of capacity.”
“If we’re unable to collect sewage and treat it because we have a filing collection system, then that’s not good for our current and future businesses,” Thurman added.
Hatfield said there may be some wiggle room from the deadline of construction needed to be well under way by June of 2014. He says the funds are coming from the Community Economic Revitalization Board, which he sits on.
“Groups all the time will come back and say they need a bit more time, some flexibility and we do grant waivers and exceptions,” Hatfield said, pointing that technically, the grant is for $3.94 million, which was re-assigned by the board to the Port in April.
“Extensions are granted all the time,” Hatfield said. “Right now, there are some local governments that need permits from the Corps of Engineers, which is in the midst of federal cuts and there are questions if they can get their permits. So, for Satsop, I think we can work something out if they need it.”