Port Townsend looks to invest in sewer system

Infrastructure needs significant upgrades

PORT TOWNSEND — City of Port Townsend officials are looking at raising rates for sewer and stormwater in the coming months as the city looks toward the next 20 years of sewer infrastructure.

In the coming weeks, the city will conduct public outreach about proposed rate hikes and fees that could help pay for upgrading and expanding the city’s sewer systems.

The first reading of a rate ordinance and utility tax ordinance is currently scheduled for Feb. 5.

“Most of our pipe network is beyond its design life,” Public Works Director Steve King said during a workshop meeting of the city council on Jan. 8.

“We can’t say this is the exact amount of pipe that needs attention right now, but what we can do is invest incrementally each year,” King said.

Most immediately, the public works department is looking to purchase a new pipe inspection camera and support van that will allow crews to determine which portions of the city’s sewer need the most attention.

Major expenses are projected as the city looks to update its aging sewer and stormwater infrastructure, much of which is at or beyond its designed lifespan. In August, consultants hired by the city projected up to $140 million worth of expenses in the next two decades as the city looks to replace its more than 75 miles of piping and upgrades and expands its wastewater treatment facility.

“Right off the bat, we are looking at an investment level of $20 million over the next five years,” King said in a video posted to the city’s YouTube page and shown at the Jan. 8 meeting.

“Beyond the next five years, there are major improvements that need to be done, like rebuilding the plant and actually adding to its capacity, that will happen in the 15- to 20-year range,” King said.

Replacing the wastewater treatment plant is expensive, King said, as the facility needs to continue operating at 100 percent capacity while the upgrades are taking place.

State law requires that once a treatment facility reaches 85 percent of its design capacity, planning must begin for an upgrade.

Port Townsend’s wastewater treatment facility is expected to reach 85 percent capacity in 2027, according to Bliss Morris, wastewater treatment operations manager.

City staff suggested the council consider rate hikes every five years and new fee structures to help pay for the capital projects.

Council members did not decide on rate hikes last week, but staff will continue to work on a rate model, General Sewer Plan and begin public outreach in the coming weeks.

Any new rates are scheduled to go into effect April 1.

City officials also hope to expand sewer infrastructure to accommodate denser housing, which will reduce rates, they said.

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsuladailynews.com.

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