PORT HADLOCK — The proposed Port Hadlock Sewer project, now in the engineering and design phase, has drawn concerns from some residents about the overall impacts of the project.
Concerned Residents of Port Hadlock (CRPH) began a petition at hadlocksewer.com in February that demands “straight answers and full participation” in the project that, in its latest version, has been in the works since 2018.
Building a sewer in Port Hadlock has been in discussions off and on over the past 20 years, said Kate Dean, county commission chair.
Quilcene resident Pamela Roberts, who is acting as CRPH’s communication specialist and as an advocate for some of the Port Hadlock residents, said that some community members feel left out of the conversation.
“People were upset and angry about seeing that the county was moving forward with bid requests and a feeling amongst residents of Port Hadlock that I personally know that felt like their voices were not even being considered and things were forging ahead on this without any discussion with the community,” Roberts said Friday.
“This has been doggy-paddling for 20 years to the point where the community essentially thinks it’s useless and they’re just wasting everybody’s time with it. If they really intend to move forward on it, there’s a need to have a restart in terms of getting the community re-involved in this.”
The CRPH petition has drawn comments ranging from not being able to afford the potential $41,000 hookup price to calling for the project to be shut down all together.
The current project plans would bring a sewer system to the “core commercial” area of Port Hadlock, which includes lower Hadlock and the Old Alcohol Plant, for a estimated total cost of about $24 million, Dean said.
Among the property owners within that area are three housing providers who hope to build multiple multi-family affordable housing units there, something they can’t do without access to a sewer, Dean said.
“We are doing this for the benefit of good land use and good planning, putting density where it belongs and we’re going to need the community’s support to be able to make that happen,” she said.
“But the controversy being raised right now is working against our efforts to provide opportunities for economic development and affordable housing in the county.
“We totally welcome questions and concerns. We want to be transparent and accessible.”
County officials are planning community outreach meetings in mid-April via Zoom with residents to discuss the state of the project and answer questions, Dean said.
Roberts, who estimated that about that about 100 residential homes are within the core area, said the project isn’t the answer for the affordable housing crisis in Jefferson County.
The price of hooking up to the system is estimated between $20,000 to $40,000. Roberts and CRPH believe that the potential $40,000 fees, as well as the subsequent monthly sewage fees and electric fees for onsite pumps, would be untenable for many.
“We envision easily $300 a month once you start adding all of these costs onto these families,” Roberts said. “This is going to drive people out of their homes and it’s just an unfair situation to ask and put on them.”
The county won’t force people to sign up for the sewer, Dean said.
“We will not proceed with this project unless we have enough subsidy and enough property owners willing to pay the cost of hookups,” Dean said. “Nobody wants to push this project unless it’s wanted by the community and financially feasible.”
Applications have been made for funding from state and federal agencies to assist with the overall costs of the project and reduce the amount that property owners would have to pay to hook into the system. State funding is fueling the present engineering and design efforts.
If the county is unable to find funding to reduce hookups to the $20,000 range, it’s likely the project wouldn’t go forward, as that would be unaffordable for businesses and residents, Dean said.
The author of “Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity” spoke against the project during a Feb. 4 address to the Intergovernmental Collaborative Group. Charles Marohn’s wide-ranging talk touched on the Hadlock sewer and other proposed projects.
Marohn, the founder of Strong Towns, an organization devoted to helping communities build financial resilience, said the proposed sewer would not be the way to provide affordable housing.
“I don’t think it will fix that problem,” said Marohn, who emphasizes the use of small projects to take care of public needs.
“I think it will cause more problems for you,” he said. “If you split up the problems in different ways and try to deal with them in that ‘what’s the next smallest thing we can do’ mentality, what you would see is affordable housing will not be solved with a big sewer system.
Marohn predicted it would create “big bills for people, large upfront costs, big developers that will work in big increments which will lead to high property values, an upward reinforcing ratio.”
The current research into the feasibility and engineering of the sewer was brought forward in 2018 by 70 percent of property owners within the core commercial area, according to Dean.
The proposed sewer system would use a modular treatment plant that utilizes membrane bioreactor technology to treat wastewater to “Class A” reclaimed water standards — required by the state Department of Ecology, said Monte Reinders, county engineer and public works director.
He said the plant would use a pressurized apparatus that is cheaper than a gravity-fed system, in a letter sent March 10 to CRPH, which raised questions about the project on its website, hadlocksewer.com,
The cost of the sewer system has been in flux, as plans changed to make it more cost-effective, which is why the initial phase of the project is focusing on just the commercial area and not residential, Dean said.
Port Hadlock was deemed an Urban Growth Area (UGA) 20 years ago after a public process, and because of that, without a sewer system in place, zoning restrictions limit new economic and residential expansion there, she added.
The other UGA in Jefferson County is the City of Port Townsend.
“Being in a growth management state, we’re required to put growth and development in Urban Growth Areas. Port Hadlock is our only unincorporated Urban Growth Area,” Dean said.
“If we want a place to put more retail, if we want a place where businesses to expand, if we want places that are more affordable than Port Townsend to put affordable housing, we need the sewer to do that — to turn on that greater density.”
The design of the sewer is expected to be completed during the summer, and that will help determine the feasibility of the project, Dean said.
More information on the project from the County can be found at https://tinyurl.com/PDN-PHSewerProject and information regarding the mid-April Zoom community meeting will be released once plans have been finalized, Dean said.
CRPH has a core of about 12 people, with Mike Regan, David Templeton, Gale Chatfield, Linda Brewster and Otto Smith spearheading the effort, Roberts said.
More about CRPH’s concerns and its petition can be found at hadlocksewer.com.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]