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Utility rates expected to stay the same for 2014
City drops plans to pipe sewage to Everett
SNOHOMISH - The city is ditching plans to pipe sewage to Everett and instead will improve its own sewage plant, which will save the city millions of dollars.
The city almost has the state Department of Ecology’s blessing to drop the sewage pipeline plan.
Snohomish hiked its utility rates the past few years to help pay for the almost $40 million sewage pipeline project.
City officials don’t know how much improvements to the sewage plant will cost, but City Manager Larry Bauman said this new plan is millions of dollars less than the Everett pipeline project.
He called the new plan a “win, win, win” last week.
Rate payers will likely get a break in rate hikes next year.
“We’re fairly certain a rate increase will not be required,” but a rate study will come out around November solidifying that, Bauman said.
The average homeowner pays $74.60 for water, $187.18 for sewer and $23.44 for storm water service. The city bills residents every two months.
To cover the cost of the pipeline project, the city’s long-range utility rate plan showed 11 percent increases each year through 2016.
The city and Ecology have completed draft agreements supporting the sewage plant plan. The negotiations could be finalized before the end of the year, Bauman said.
Ecology spokesman Larry Altose said the common goal is to make sure Snohomish complies with state pollution control regulations.
Snohomish’s plant was found to be releasing too much bacteria into the Snohomish River. An environmental group sued the city in 2003, which eventually led to this corrective order from Ecology.
Snohomish’s old plan was to build a sewage pipeline to Everett instead of the more expensive option of building a brand-new sewer plant.
Since then Snohomish began fixing its current plant and the city has had zero sewage violations in the past few years, Bauman said.
City officials capitalized on the fact the plant is performing correctly to renegotiate the city’s compliance plan with Ecology earlier this year.
Snohomish has already earmarked $900,000 next year as a down payment toward the plant improvements. The money comes from city utility funds. It also gave consultants Kennedy-Jenks $5,000 last month to rework the city sewage plan.
Snohomish ran afoul of environmental laws after stricter laws were put in place. Ecology strengthens its water pollution laws every five years.
The city has taken steps to make the plant compliant.
In 2012, the city began constructing “hotels for bacteria” at the plant to help bacteria eat up the sewage better.
Snohomish also built a $4.7 million system of separated sewer and storm water pipes in 2011 to address a related sewage issue. During heavy rains, Snohomish’s old system of combined sewer and storm water pipes spilled out diluted sewage water into the Snohomish River to prevent the sewage plant from overfilling.
The separation projects seem to be working. The weekend of heavy rains that doused the annual car show on Sept. 29 weren’t enough to cause storm water levels to get near the plant’s sewage capacities, Bauman said.
Snohomish built its sewage plant in 1995 expecting it to last 30 years without any trouble. The plant will reach the 30-year mark in 2025.
The Everett sewage pipeline design is 90 percent complete, meaning the plans could be revived if necessary, Bauman said.
Snohomish planned to hook its line up to Everett’s plant by 2020. The timing would have worked as Everett is scheduled to enlarge its plant around that time.

 

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