City considers rate hikes to fund sewage flooding fixes
EVERETT - The city is proposing citywide utility rate increases to pay for separating sewer and storm water pipes for the areas of north Everett most susceptible to basement flooding caused by heavy rains.
The additional pipe work would prevent flooding at many homes when there’s a moderate rainstorm, but the work may not prevent flooding when it rains as heavily as it did Aug. 29 and Sept. 5 last year.
Those storms caused an estimated $4.1 million in flood claims, according to the city.
The proposed additional pipes would cost $59 million and work would last for 10 years.
The city does not have firm numbers on how much utility rates could increase under the proposal. Some preliminary estimates under the proposal would pitch up the sewer rate to $75 a bill for 2018 and around $100 a bill in 2023.
The sewer rate under the status quo would put the sewer bill around $58 a bill in 2018 and around $65 a bill in 2023. The sewer bill funds maintenance and other regular capital improvements.
Any utility rate changes wouldn’t hit until 2016 because the Everett City Council sets utility rates on a four-year cycle; the council last locked in the rates in 2012.
The numbers are not firm because the city could reduce planned water and storm water rate increases to soften the sewer rate increase, public works director Dave Davis said last week. Davis will be back before the Everett City Council later this spring with firmer numbers.
Everett’s sewer rate of $48 every two months is still cheaper than most larger cities. Seattle residents pay a $119 sewer bill every two months these days.
In the meantime, the city will continue to aggressively push installing backwater valves that prevent overfilled sewer pipes from backing up into homes. The city is installing these valves at its own cost and adding more backwater valves is incorporated into the proposed sewer rate increases, Davis said.
There hasn’t been a flooding claim at a home with a working backwater valve yet, Davis said.
“We know they work, and we know they’re an effective tool,” Davis said. The valves are not complicated to maintain, he said.
The city has already installed 12 backwater valves, and 77 more properties are scheduled to have the valves installed, city spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said late last month.
The city has separation projects already in progress.
The city will begin separating pipes in north Everett around the Providence Regional Medical Center Colby Campus later this summer in what it calls its $13.5 million Sewer “M” project.
Davis said the city also plans to start fixes this year along Warren Street, where a row of houses had basement flooding.
By 2017, the city plans to start its Sewer “N” pipe separation project benefitting homes in the Northwestt Neighborhood.
When it pours, the city usually has to pay out. The existing pipe system can’t handle heavy rainfall.
North Everett’s sewer system dates to the late 1890s, when cities regularly combined their storm water and sewage pipes.
The system normally works fine, but heavy rains cause these pipes to overfill beyond capacity and the excess water burbles up from both street gutters and downstairs home plumbing.
Public works is now estimating the Aug. 29 and Sept. 5 flood damage claims could total $4.1 million.
Residents have made 194 claims, and 171 were accepted by the city as of Jan. 27. The city settled 78 of the claims.
This is the largest set of claims yet; the city paid $940,000 in 2010 to cover about 75 flood claims after a freak rainstorm.
One factor in the high claim costs, Davis said, is because people are turning their basements into living spaces (think “man cave”) with electronics and furniture.
The heavy downpour on Aug. 29, though, was the heaviest recorded rainfall in Everett since the 1940s when meteorologists started tracking precipitation, Davis said.
The city also proposed two other alternatives at last week’s council meeting. Separating the pipes enough to handle heavy rainstorms would require raising an additional $256 million over 20 years. Separating all of the pipes citywide, mostly located in north Everett, would require raising more than $600 million.
The combined pipe systems, which fell out of favor in the 1970s, are used in 11 cities in this state and 600 cities nationwide, Davis said.
North Everett’s flat topography makes it more susceptible for overfilled pipes to back up into the street and go down into basements, he said.
The combined system in north Everett serves an area of about 6,500 miles and consists of 145 miles of pipelines, not including side sewers, Pembroke said previously.
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