FORKS — Clallam County approved the use of $2.4 million in Opportunity Funds to improve and retrofit the City of Forks’ wastewater treatment facility.
The total project cost will be about $3.4 million, with the city contributing $1,023,500 from the funds it received from the American Rescue Plan Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Forks submitted an application to Clallam County, which was reviewed by the Opportunity Fund Board in December.
The board, along with the Clallam County Economic Development Committee, determined the application met the criteria for funding.
The wastewater treatment plant requires improvements and retrofitting to prevent catastrophic failure.
They include creating redundancies with key components, increasing capacity where necessary to respond to development, and preparing for sewer expansion with a high probability for failed septic systems.
“The staff (City of Forks) had such a compelling application, primarily because they don’t have any redundancy,” said Colleen McAleer of the county EDC. “This system was created in 1986 and they have been babying it, and one staff member’s entire job has been making sure that this system doesn’t fail, and he’s preparing to retire.”
“They made such a compelling case that we went from, believing they should look at other options to this is a huge need that we need to unanimously support,” McAleer said.
The city did consider pursuing state and federal funding as well as loans to fund the project.
“As far as funding sources, there were various funding sources explored and most contained a debt component, and if we looked at the debt serving ability of those customers, it just did not pencil out,” Forks City Clerk Audrey Grafstrom said.
The city found nearly one-third of the population it serves lives under the national poverty line. While the sewer rates go up annually per Consumer Price Index, if the city were to pursue a loan, it would raise rates by 36 percent to 40 percent based on low-interest rates with a long-term repayment schedule, placing an untenable burden on low- to moderate-income residents.
When considering state funding, Forks pursued a grant from the state Department of Health and Ecology, but the grant was denied due to the fact that the wastewater system hasn’t failed yet.
City officials hesitated to pursue federal funding through the recently passed federal infrastructure bill due to the length of time it would take to receive it and the likelihood the wastewater system would fail before then.
While the City of Forks has never received any money from the Opportunity Fund before, the Quillayute Park and Recreation District, which is within city limits, recently received a $160,000 grant and $250,000 loan.
The Clallam County Opportunity Fund was created in 1997 to help distressed rural communities by providing limited funding for public infrastructure projects. It currently has about $6.6 million.
Reporter Ken Park can be reached by email at [email protected]