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Making a stink about it
For more than 10 years excessive pollutants from the lower Dungeness River have compromised shellfish harvesting in areas around the Dungeness Bay, and the area has been one of several focus points to clean up the water quality in the Dungeness Watershed. With a rising water table and failing on site septic systems, human activity is believed to be a contributing factor to the water quality degradation.
In response to the issue, the county has used a Department of Ecology grant to look at possible ways to manage human wastewater in the area. A March 9 meeting to discuss the area’s Wastewater Treatment Feasibility Study drew more than 30 people to debate the research done for the plan, the types of alternatives provided and the actual need for a new sewer plan for the northeastern Dungeness area.
“The county does not have a pre-decided plan as to what to do,” said Clallam groundwater specialist Ann Soule at the meeting. While a Batelle study establishes that human activity is responsible for 7 percent of excessive nutrients and coliforms in soils, commissioners have not decided on a way to manage the wastewater and several possible plans were drafted to address the issue.
Damon McAlister, with the Bremerton-based Parametrix engineering firm, presented four possible options for the wastewater plan in the northeastern Dungeness project area. The northeastern Dungeness is comprised of four areas pertinent to the plan: the Three Crabs neighborhood, the Seashore neighborhood, the Golden Sands neighborhood and the Dungeness neighborhood.
The four plans McAlister presented vary in scope and cost.
The most basic would be to keep the existing on-site sewer systems paid for by property owners. While not as environmentally friendly, it’s easier to permit and “more simplistic from a regulatory standpoint,” said McAlister.
McAlister’s next recommendation was four clustered, on-site disposal systems, one for each of the four neighborhoods. While this would typically be a “middle-of-the-road” fix for the sewer problem, the proximity of floodplains and the high water table in the area would make it difficult to secure land for a dispersal area for four sites.
The third and fourth options both would use a centralized collection basin for the entire area, but differ on the method of removal. One plan focuses on treatment and disposal on-site through a membrane. On paper, this third plan is the most expensive overall, but it also would be the longest lasting and most flexible, as the sites can be expanded at little cost to accommodate increased flow rates.
The fourth plan would transport the waste to Sunland for disposal. However, due to regulations such as the Growth Management Act, transportation to Sunland would be more cost-prohibitive.
The community’s reaction varied, with the most vocal residents falling on the negative side. A number of residents questioned the necessity of the new plan, arguing that if the human contribution were higher, such as 70 percent, it would be understandable. “Seven percent and you want to spend $11 or $12 million? It’s too fast for me,” said one attendee.
Other fears were from retired residents living on fixed incomes, who question their ability to pay even if the plan were necessary. “You look around there and there’s a lot of grey hair, a lot of the people there are on fixed incomes, where are they gonna come up with this money?” said Elaine Smith, who lives in the Golden Sands area. “Any way (the county) can make money, they’re gonna try to do it, and, damn it, people can’t afford it.”
For now, nothing is set in place and McAlister reiterated that the options he presented were just that, options to be pursued if the county did indeed decide to go forward with upgrading the area’s sewer plan.
Despite this, observers like Charles “Pepper” Putnam are surprised to see the amount of work done on a large plan that’s not even certain of getting approval. “I’m a little amazed that this thing has gone this far,” said Putnam, “but it just seems to me that this thing is moving ahead with a life of its own.”
By the end of the morning, viewers came away with a more positive look at the ideas after Soule and McAlister explained that the plans weren’t mandated and are not going to be acted on any time soon.
“I think that their whole approach was government and scary and it didn’t need to be,” said Pat McCauley, who felt that the discussion was presented as a confirmed plan instead of options for a potential future issue. “There were some people so hostile in that audience that wouldn’t have been had they known it was just to educate them.”
For further information, including the dates of future workshops and meetings, residents should visit clallam.net/HHS/EnvironmentalHealth/DungenessWastewater.html on the web, or contact the information line at 360-417-2542.