Sewer plant cost climbing

By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

Costs continue to escalate as the city of Enumclaw plans for a significant expansion of its municipal wastewater treatment plant.

It has been a decade since the city first recognized the eventual need for plant upgrading, according to Public Works Director Chris Searcy. And it has been four years since a consultant offered the first hint of what improvements, and expansion, would cost.

The eventual price tag for the project impacts city residents directly in the pocketbook, because much of the cost will be paid through higher rates.

The city's original cost estimate, provided in 2000, came in at about $16 million, including the up-front cost of designing the project. In May of this year, that figure had increased to $19.7 million ($18.4 million for construction and $1.3 million for design work).

In August, the city received another batch of figures, and the news wasn't particularly good. The project consultant now figures the total cost at somewhere between $23 million and $26 million, depending upon how the city wants to deal with plant "biosolids," or the sludge generated through the filtration process.

"The numbers are higher that we would have anticipated in this short a time," Searcy said, addressing the leap in cost between May and last week.

City staff and consultants were slated to meet today (Wednesday) to discuss options. "We should have a lot clearer picture," by the time that meeting concludes, Searcy said.

The city has been looking for money in recent years to fund the project, and has secured a pair of low-interest loans through the state's Public Works Trust Fund. The loans total $19 million and the city's Public Works Department has perhaps another $1 million in reserves that could go toward the project, Searcy said. The remainder would likely be generated through bonds issued by the city.

All money would have to be repaid - except the small percentage coming from cash reserves - and that means increased utility bills for city customers.

Searcy said it's too early to guess what financial hit ratepayers should expect. However, in 1991 - when the city was deciding on options for improving the plant - speculation was that rates could double for the average Enumclaw homeowner.

Searcy's hope is that construction will begin in the spring or summer of next year and be completed by late 2006.

The city plant, built in 1980, treats sewage and sends effluent via a pipeline to the White River. Several years ago, it was determined the effluent did not meet state standards. Thus, in recent years, the city has placed a cap on new sewer connections.

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