Fall City business owners could soon see septic system relief

Fall City business district property owners approved a design for their new shared on-site septic system last month, marking a major milestone for a project that is expected to bring long-needed relief to town businesses.

After business owners selected one of the three design options at a Jan. 19 meeting, the project’s next step will be to prepare it for bidding from contractors before construction begins toward the end of 2022. The system is expected to be finished by the end of 2023.

The new design will be a pressurized septic system with a central drainage field. Each parcel will continue to have a septic tank, but they will now each have a pump, which will send wastewater east toward an underground drainage field at Bernard Memorial Park, where it will be used for the added benefit of drip irrigation. The new tanks are high efficiency and are expected to only need pumping every 10 to 15 years.

After construction is finished, businesses are expected to no longer have to worry about whether they’ll be shut down or fined by the department of health because of their septic tanks, said Fall City Community Association President Angela Donaldson.

“Now the property owners will be able to thrive and be viable businesses for our community,” she said. “It’s just been amazing to see it come to this point.”

Since buildings along Fall City’s main street were relocated on top of drainage fields nearly 40 years ago to make room for work done on the former Sunset highway, city businesses have been consistently plagued by failing septic systems.

Of the 62 parcels currently in the town’s business district, about one-third don’t have working septic systems that are up to the department of health code, while another one-third are functioning, but not quite up to standard.

A final one-third of business owners do have working septic systems that comply with the use of the building, but are unable to improve their property.

Property owners are also currently responsible for their own drain fields, while some don’t have any drain fields at all.

In 2012, 16 Fall City businesses were almost shut down after they were flagged by the county for nonconforming septic systems. Donaldson said former King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert brought King County Executive Dow Constantine out to Fall City to issue a moratorium on shutting down businesses.

The new septic system will not only clear those concerns for those hooking up to it, but the system is also expected to bring environmental improvements. The current septic system has the possibility of contaminating groundwater and causing soil erosion.

The project will be funded using $6.5 million in state funds that were secured last year by 5th District legislators and generated by the American Rescue Plan Act.

The Fall City Community Association is the initial permitting applicant for the project, but will eventually transfer ownership of the system to business owners, who are currently forming an owners association that will be either a nonprofit or LLC. Property owners are required to remain in that ownership model for at least a decade.