Residents demand sewer vote
October 2, 2008 · Updated 2:38 PM
CARNATION _ A standing-room-only crowd made up of Carnation
residents packed the City Council room during the council's recent meeting
to ask for one thing.
During a public-comment portion of the meeting, which allowed
residents to voice their opinions on a proposed sewer system expected to
cost $6.2 million for the first phase of construction, more than 20 people
told council members, and Mayor Bob Patterson, that they wanted the
issue placed on a ballot.
"We deserve a vote," said John Manning of Carnation.
Many of the residents claimed the city had not provided enough
information about the proposed sewer project, and that the need for
building a wastewater treatment plant and sewer collection system had not
been justified. If all the proposed construction phases are completed, the
project will cost more than $15 million over 20 years.
"The current plan is ill-conceived and unnecessary. There is no
evidence of groundwater contamination in the residential areas," said Michael
Finley, of Carnation.
However, in an interview, Patterson said he is convinced the
city needs a sewer system to replace septic tanks that collect waste from
homes and businesses.
"My conscience is completely clear. We've got to have a sewer,"
he said. As to the request for more information about the proposed
plan, Patterson said documents outlining it have been readily available.
"The people that haven't read anything, that's not our fault," he
said. "The information is there."
On whether the public would be able to vote on the proposed
plan, Patterson said it was possible, but the decision would have to be made
by the City Council.
He added that if it went to a vote, he thought the outcome would be
"We think probably if most people voted, we should get a majority
The need for a sewer system was noted years ago in studies of the
city, some dating back more than a decade, the mayor said. Because of
several factors affecting Carnation _ a high water table, its location in a flood
plain and its soil _ the county's health department has often stopped
business owners from remodeling or expanding their buildings because their
septic tanks could not be brought up to current code.
"These sites are just very difficult sites for onsite sewage systems,"
said Gordon Clemans, a senior environmental health specialist with
Public Health-Seattle and King County.
"Those (factors) all add up to make it awfully difficult" to approve
any new construction, he said.
The acting supervisor of the health department's wastewater
program, Mark Allen, said businesses wanting to enlarge their building, or
remodel, face another challenge: space.
"There's not sufficient ground left over to put a suitable system in
there," he said. "That really hampers
what they do."
Patterson agreed, saying, "If all septics were working fine, that's
great. But we couldn't add any more because we're at (a) saturation point."
At the City Council meeting, Irene Thompson suggested the city
should examine building a sewer system for just the downtown area.
However, Patterson said it wouldn't be cost-effective.
Several of the residents at the August 1, City Council meeting
said those living in the downtown area could least afford the assessment
fee of being connected to the sewer system, which is based on the square
footage of their homes. With that comes a monthly service fee of $51 that
would be added to their water bills.
"It would have an immense, permanent impact on the citizens
and their checkbooks," said G. Miller-St. Germain.
"What we're looking at is a huge financial burden for the people in
the city," said Manning. "Phase 1, which is where I live, has some of the
poorest homes in the city of Carnation."
Patterson said he sympathized with those residents.
"It may be a hardship on those people, but they are the ones in
the worst shape, and most of those septic systems are already 20, 30, 40
"Our hands are tied pretty much by King County health department."
Some who spoke conceded local businesses were hurting because of
the current reliance on septic systems.
"Sewers are going to have to go there sometime," said Donald
Eddy, manager of the Texaco filling station on Tolt Avenue. "The businesses
Laurie Clinton, a Carnation resident serving on the Sewer
Advisory Committee, told those attending the meeting a decision on whether to
go ahead with the proposed project was far from finalized.
"This is not a done deal; there are questions that we are still looking
at," she said.
She also tried to allay concerns about growth, saying those issues
can be addressed by the city, namely with its comprehensive plan.
Patterson said Carnation's 20-year comprehensive plan wouldn't
allow the massive growth seen in other areas of the county. In its proposal
for the sewer system and wastewater treatment plant, Redmond-based
American Engineering Corp. expects Carnation to grow to 4, 965 residents by
2020. The town's population in 1998-1999 was 1,725.
"We think we can keep it to that," Patterson said. "You see, we
don't have the area to annex like some cities that are expanding.
"The growth management act says we cannot go outside those lines.
If people want it controlled, it will be controlled."
The City Council met with the Sewer Advisory Committee to
discuss the proposed plan at a workshop held Tuesday, and council members
will decide how to proceed at their next meeting, August 15.