CARLSBORG — A looming deadline to connect to the Carlsborg Sewer Project could mean a difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars for Sequim School District if it were to connect Greywolf Elementary School.
But School Board members look to avoid a higher fee by asking Clallam County commissioners if an extension is possible for the district to connect after the March 31 deadline, and, if so, to receive that extension for an undisclosed amount of time.
School board directors voted 4-0, with Robin Henrikson excused, to send a letter at a special meeting Monday.
Board President Brian Kuh said Clallam County staffers alerted them to the deadline late last year, leading to increased discussions in recent months.
“I don’t know if we as a district were watching the clock in terms of the graduated schedule for the full hookup fees,” he said.
“Like [schools Superintendent Gary Neal] said, it wasn’t identified and if it works, why are we even talking about it? We’ll fix it in the future.”
Clallam County crews completed the Carlsborg Sewer Project in the summer of 2017 to send waste to the city of Sequim for residential and business owners in the Urban Growth Area (UGA).
Because Greywolf is within the UGA, the school would be required to hook up if its system failed, a new building with sewer connections was constructed, or if the state Department of Ecology determined the property’s groundwater nitrate level was too high, county staff said.
Meggan Uecker, Clallam County solid waste coordinator, said a county ordinance requires that the school district must submit a permit review fee based on its equivalent residential units (ERUs), which could cost between $24,000 and $36,000, depending on how many lines would go into the sewer.
After April 1, the fee could cost as much as $192,000.
If connected, the district would receive a monthly bill for the sewage connection determined by a base fee and a fee per cubic foot of water usage, which could cost upward of about $1,200 per month, Uecker said.
On Monday, John McAndie, the school district’s maintenance and operations supervisor and director of facilities, told school directors that based on installing a single-line sewer connection to the bus barn, Greywolf’s connection could cost $200,000 to $250,000 for construction.
County Engineer Ross Tyler also told board directors Monday that they may not need to connect all of the ERUs because some may only be for irrigation and fire lines, which could reduce the overall costs.
If the district were to connect to the system, Uecker said, the ordinance requires connecting within four months, but that extensions are available.
She said some homeowners have requested and received refunds after learning of the costs for themselves.
Board member Brandino Gibson said if the school district does receive an extension, “in reality, that extension is going to have to be pretty extensive.”
Neal, who was absent from the March 4 board meeting to interview for Hockinson School District’s superintendent position, asked why the sewer project rose to an immediate need above other priorities first established in 2008.
“There are $2.2 million in needs here,” he said, addressing a capital projects list. “[The sewer connection] is not an immediate need. When did this surpass safety at Helen Haller, all the things falling apart all around us? This is a system that isn’t broke. I understand there are some deadlines, but for our organization, I have much other more urgent needs.”
School Board members and school staff mentioned other projects, such as finishing Olympic Peninsula Academy’s portables, Helen Haller’s portable and sewer issues at the athletic fields as other priorities.
Steve McIntire, interim director of operations and finance, said some items — such as safety locks for every door — don’t have complete cost estimates, but the total for all of the projects could climb upward of $4 million to $5 million.
“I’m not saying it’s not worthy to do, but you’ve got $2 million and that doesn’t include anything to do with liability to athletic facilities like a track,” he said.
Neal said plans dating back to a facilities committee report in 2008 and readdressed in 2012 still haven’t been addressed.
“Every time we do something that’s not on this list, we keep pushing away from our reserve,” he said.
“For the life of me I don’t understand how this is being brought to a priority. I don’t understand when there are so many other things on our plate.”
Neal said this would add a “burden to already burdened maintenance crew.”
Board member Jim Stoffer said he hoped to approach state representatives for a grant from the capital budget committee, but 2019’s deadline already passed.
With the March 31 deadline looming, Uecker said some 140 homes and businesses are connecting to the system.
For more information about the Carlsborg Sewer Project, visit www.clallam.net/publicworks/Carlsborg Sewer.html.
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].