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Wastewater infrastructure constructed at a time of less environmental concern and/or within lower density of development with greater expediency has become increasingly difficult to renovate or replace. Infrastructure projects in the Pacific Northwest now frequently become entangled with third party interests and greater demands and diversity of objectives to be met. A project must be accepted in form by many interests before it can move forward. This paper describes a project that resolved many and varied requirements with involvement of numerous state, federal, Tribal and public interests to reach acceptance.

Terrain common to the Northwest, that was an advantage for gravity sewers, has become subject to increased environmental protection. Furthermore, the Endangered Species Act has complicated the implementation of any project with a potential for fisheries habitat impact by giving various federal agencies, Indian Tribes and public interest groups' greater oversight of project decision-making. Funding programs impose specific objectives and in the end, ratepayers must be satisfied their dollars are being wisely but not unnecessarily spent.

The Town of Friday Harbor constructed a wastewater collection and conveyance system around 1965. That system was configured to convey flow by gravity from the shore-facing uplands to offshore piping and pump stations. Over the years, development has built over and around this system making access difficult.

Recently, the 40 years of exposure of the offshore, cast iron sewer to seawater, in-water construction, ferry prop wash and boat anchors has culminated in numerous pipe failures. The consequence of these failures has been an increasing cost of maintenance, discharge of untreated and/or partially treated wastewater to the marine environment and permit violations.

Permit violations and concern over increasing impact to water quality caused the Washington Department of Ecology and a citizen group to take legal action and the Town agreed to stop the permit violations and reduce the risk of further violations and water quality impacts by replacement of the deteriorated marine sewer system. Ecology specifically required the Town to explore alternatives, including moving the existing sewer out of the marine environment.

Because the work would take place in marine waters and funding assistance would be required to make the project affordable, the project would need to involve and meet the approval of multiple local, state and federal agencies. Tribal interests arose as a result of the location of the project near historical Tribal lands and its potential to impact fisheries resources.

The selected project configuration balanced environmental and system performance objectives with overall cost, affordability, and impact to customers and the general community within Town service policies. The lessons learned from this project are transferable to other communities facing any or all of the issues resolved in this project.

This paper discusses these lessons and summarizes the process that deployed technical and financial analysis through public and agency outreach to gather project support while satisfying the Town legal agreements. Critical project elements described in the paper include:

Early agency consultations to provide project notification and identify permit and grant/loan funding requirements and incorporating those requirements into project alternatives.

Underwater mapping and Biological Evaluation (BE) used to characterize the marine environment as a basis for project design to the satisfaction of the Army Corps of Engineers, National Marine Fisheries Service, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Washington Department of Ecology.

State Environmental Review Process (SERP), required to qualify for Ecology funding programs, includes extensive requirements for notifications to state and federal agencies and Tribes, response documentation in addition to detailed environmental assessment.

Technical process included alternative development and analysis, coordination with Washington State Ferries on joint use facilities and a public education/technical assistance effort to address the conversion of some gravity services to pumping.

Ongoing public outreach from study phase through design to educate the public on service and constructibility issues.

Financial analysis including cost of alternatives, funding options, rate impacts and cash flow requirements.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2007-01-01

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