Everett faces an uphill challenge that concerns something that usually flows downhill: Sewage.
The city has an outmoded system that carries waste and storm water through the same pipes. Recent deluges have surpassed the system’s capacity, sending contaminated gunk into the bay or excreting it into businesses and residential basements.
This week, the City Council considered a Goldilocks menu of solutions: an inexpensive approach that accomplishes too little; a substantial overhaul that costs too much; and a middle-of-the-road option that sounds just right.
Or does it? This is not a time for short-sighted half measures.
The city can’t ask sewer customers to cross their fingers and wish for fair skies. The two massive storms our region experienced in a three-year period hardly suggest the climate is moderating.
The city can’t ask customers to play sewage roulette. As some homes and businesses get back-flow valves from an apologetic city, others are left waiting to see if they’ll be the next unlucky recipients of the system’s septic overload.
The city can’t ask customers to accept the valves as a reasonable permanent solution. Already there have been cases when the valves malfunctioned, the valves were installed improperly, or the city suggested customers were liable for not maintaining their valves adequately.
No, when council members update the 10-year sewer plan this spring, they must set Everett on a course to develop separate systems for sewage and storm water. And they should do it despite the inevitable financial pain and public pressure they will feel. The numbers are formidable: The difference between the cheapest and most expensive options under consideration is about $750 million.
Numerous cities in the Northwest built the same kind of sewer system that now serves downtown and north Everett.
Many of them have been working on upgrades for a decade or more.
Everett has procrastinated more than most.
The sewer infrastructure now demands the level of creativity and resolve — a determination to craft an all-of-the-above solution — that local officials demonstrated when they were wooing Boeing, competing for a WSU campus and striving to keep the Riverfront project alive.
Ensuring Everett’s viability 50 years into the future requires officeholders to make tough decisions.
This is far more important far than currying public favor or worrying about the next election. It’s called leadership.