Sewer plant to move to higher ground

LAKE STEVENS — Think of it as flood insurance, with a discount.

The Lake Stevens Sewer District is planning a new plant on the hill just below Highway 204, so it can move up and out of its current home smack in the middle of the Ebey Slough flood plain.

The current plant, at 500 Sunnyside Blvd., flooded twice in the 1970s and has come close several times since.

Sewer service rates will go up to help pay for the new, $72 million plant. But the district and city are in line for low-interest loans that could knock a little bit off that rate hike, district manager Darwin Smith said.

The new plant, between Ninth Street SE and 12th Street SE, has been planned for years to replace the current plant. Work on the new plant is set to begin next year and be finished in 2011.

The district and the city of Lake Stevens have applied for $20 million in low-interest loans from the state that would be paid off at only one-half of 1 percent interest, Smith said.

Without those loans, the district will have to go on the open market and pay the going interest rate for a loan for the $20 million, Smith said.

He estimated that the low-interest loans could save ratepayers $4 to $5 a month, but because of variables such as construction costs, he can’t yet say for sure.

“It might be more, it might be less,” Smith said.

Residents in the district, which surrounds the lake, pay a flat rate of $45 per month. Businesses pay through a formula that comes out to about that same amount, Smith said.

To help pay for the new plant, Smith estimated that rates will increase about $15 if the low-interest loans are obtained.

The Legislature will decide on the loans in its session this coming winter. The state Public Works Trust Fund board recommended recently to the Legislature that it approve the loans, according to a letter from Lake Stevens Mayor Vern Little and sewer district commissioner James Mitchell.

The district and city have already obtained $31 million in low-interest loans. They’re planning on putting in about $15 million in combined reserves, leaving about $6 million to be financed with bonds backed by rate hikes.

The city works closely with the district through a joint advisory board of three elected city officials and the three elected sewer district commissioners, city administrator Jan Berg said. The commissioners still make the final decisions for the district.

The new plant will be equipped with membrane bioreactors, considered the state of the art in sewage treatment, which will allow the treated water to be sold for irrigation and other uses.

The Sunnyside Boulevard plant was first built in 1971 and upgraded in 1985. In 1973 and 1977, up to 14 feet of water flowed into the plant, forcing plant operators to release raw sewage into the slough, Smith said. The same would have to be done if the plant were to flood today, he said.

Though the plant hasn’t flooded since the ’70s, it had several close calls in the ’90s and again during the heavy rains last year, George said. In 2000, a dike failed but the plant didn’t flood.

During heavy rains, Smith has a helicopter on call in case employees need to be evacuated.

“It’s just a matter of time and it’s just a matter of luck,” Smith said.

Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or sheets@heraldnet.com.

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