NOTE: This is an analysis of a well-written article by Brian Kelly that ran in the Port Townsend/Jefferson County Leader on April 21, 2021. The article featured a special commissioners meeting on April 15 about the proposed Hadlock Sewer. Before that meeting the Concerned Residents of Port Hadlock (CRPH) submitted a petition to the Jefferson County commissioners demanding “straight answers” from the county about the sewer project. Over 100 Hadlock residents signed the petition and wrote extensive statements to go along with their signatures. Read their comments here.
NOTE: Responses from the Concerned Residents of Port Hadlock (CRPH) to the article below are in red text. We have changed some text in the original article to bold to help emphasize the points we are responding to. We also corrected the original article text which named our group “citizens” rather than “residents.”
LEADER NEWS ARTICLE
Jefferson County officials: Sewer hookups not planned for unwilling property owners in Port Hadlock area
by Brian Kelly
Jefferson County officials batted back some of the recent criticisms on the proposed Port Hadlock Wastewater System during a special commissioners meeting on the project last week.
Officials stressed that property owners outside the Phase 1 boundary of the sewer service area won’t be required to connect to the system or help pay for the first-phase improvements.
CRPH RESPONSE: The Concerned Residents of Port Hadlock are not just afraid that we will be asked to pay for the Core Area sewer installation. We don’t want our aquifer depleted, we don’t want an open cesspool near our properties, we don’t want sewage spilled into Chimacum Creek and we don’t want to have our septic systems declared “failing” as an excuse to later force us to hook up to the sewer system. The increased property taxes, monthly fees, costs of decommissioning our septic systems and hook up costs will drive many of us out of our homes. Jefferson County has almost 50% of its residents already paying beyond 30% of their monthly cash flow to mortgages or rents, leaving little for other basic needs such as food and healthcare. We can ill afford more financial pressure from the high costs of building a sewer.
“People with property outside the boundary, they added, would only pay later if they agreed to extend sewer lines onto their land,” they added.
CRPH RESPONSE: The county’s statement is simply false. The county will declare septic systems as “failing” when landowners need to switch to secondary drain fields or update their septic systems. They will also force all new construction to hook up to the sewer. The county is also exploring requiring hook up to the sewer for any property being sold within the UGA and any property within 200 feet of the system.
The two-hour outreach meeting was held as opponents to a Port Hadlock sewer system have become increasingly active in their fight against the infrastructure improvements, and submitted a petition protesting the project.
Those who submitted the petition, a group called Concerned Residents of Port Hadlock, said it showed a high level of opposition to the sewer system, and said more people were signing every day.
If county officials did not agree with the sentiments presented in the petition, the group added, the county should poll residents.
“I was glad to hear the diversity of input at our meeting,” Commissioner Heidi Eisenhour said during Monday’s board of commissioners meeting.
CRPH RESPONSE: Eisenhour made no specific mention of any of the comments on the petition submitted by the Concerned Residents of Port Hadlock. There were almost 100 individual written statements submitted along with the signatures on the petition. If she appreciated our input why did she not address any of our concerns at the public meeting?
She continued the commitment she made during her campaign last year for District 2 commissioner.
“I really want to hear from more of the community,” Eisenhour said.
CRPH RESPONSE: The Concerned Residents of Port Hadlock leafleted door to door across the community of Port Hadlock. From that flier community members were encouraged to sign the petition asking for the county to give them “straight answers” about the sewer project. They were not asked to speak against or in favor of the sewer. It was an inclusive invitation to the entire community. It is interesting, however, that most of the signers expressed opposition when they signed the petition. They also attended the public meeting on April 15, a meeting for which they had waited for months. Eisenhour heard from the Concerned Residents of Port Hadlock and apparently found none of our comments worth addressing during the entire April 15 meeting. This is the district that Eisenhour represents – District 2!
People who spoke at the April 15 meeting in favor of the sewer where primarily representatives of non-profits or government agencies – not residents of the Port Hadlock UGA. Even Craig Durgan, who is chair of the Sewer Working Group, said that all he wanted was a re-zone of his Port Hadlock property! He didn’t “need” the sewer!
“Eisenhour said she appreciated the input from Concerned Residents of Port Hadlock.”
“I look forward to hearing from a further diverse set of opinions in the community,” she added.
CRPH RESPONSE: By using the words “further diverse” Eisenhower implies that she does not wish to actually consider the comments in opposition to the sewer she has already received from us. We estimate that over 90% of the residents in Port Hadlock are against the sewer. Eisenhour’s statement implies that she wants to find someone somewhere in the Port Hadlock area who supports this project. Good luck! She is working uphill against the fact that most people are against this! There were about 106 people who took the time to sign and comment extensively on the CRPH petition, but Eisenhour wants to hear from “others.” Again, why does she have nothing to say about our input? How diverse do we have to be to matter?
“We need to continue the conversation locally,” added Commissioner Greg Brotherton.
“He suggested doing more subarea planning in the county.”
CRPH RESPONSE: This is the first responsive comment from a commissioner in this article that acknowledges the need for further community conversations about planning. However, the county continues to make grandiose sewer plans for not only Port Hadlock, but Quilcene and Brinnon as well, without continuing discussions with the community. Sewers have a terrible history of polluting the environment and costing residents much more than they deliver in the way of benefits. Engineering firms love sewers because they make huge profits constructing the pipelines, but residents are the ones saddled with the costs.
Brotherton said he had also talked to those who had signed the petition before the meeting and added those discussions would continue in the future.
“It was presented with a position that was easy to sign on to,” Brotherton said of the petition. “I don’t necessarily take it at face value.”
CRPH RESPONSE: That statement is dismissive of all the people who signed the petition, most of whom wrote extensive comments beyond simply agreeing with the petition statement demanding “straight answers.” Brotherton’s comment about not taking our statements at “face value” implies that somehow our statements had hidden meaning or that what we wrote was not true. This is insulting to the residents of Port Hadlock, who went out of their way to submit their signatures and written comments.
“He added some people may have a reasonable fear that sewers will lead to gentrification of Port Hadlock, and said that issue was worth looking into.”
CRPH RESPONSE: This shows that Brotherton actually heard part of our message. We need more of this kind of empathy from our county commissioners. Listen to the people!
Commissioner Kate Dean said county staff did a great job of presenting a lot of information on the project, and added that much work has gone into a creating a plan that “has had both the curse and a benefit of a lot of time to work through a lot of these challenges.”
“The plan hinges on using more affordable technology, and is being tailored to commercial property owners who want sewers and parcels that support affordable housing.”
CRPH RESPONSE: Years ago there was an effort led by Craig Durgan, who owns property that would be up-zoned to light industrial if the sewer was constructed. He got some landowners in Port Hadlock to sign a document asking the county to find out what it would cost to build a sewer in Port Hadlock. Mr. Durgan is fond of stating that the sewer is the key to affordable housing. But he is the one who suggests we give all the homeless people a free ticket and ferry ride to live in the empty prison on McNeil Island. Durgan wrote that he doesn’t even need a sewer – he just wants his property re-zoned. He ran for county commissioner as a Democrat against Greg Brotherton. Craig is the now chair of the Jefferson County Republican Party. A question was asked about any of the candidates benefiting financially from building the Port Hadlock sewer. Three of them said there was no conflict.
Durgan stated, “I’ve had property there for 10 years and I’m growing weeds and paying the mortgage.”
For some reason, the county – led by Kate Dean – thought it was a good idea to sanction Durgan as the chair of a semi=private, informal “Sewer Working Group,” an exclusive group of handpicked landowners supportive of the sewer idea. In their meeting minutes the county stated that this group was NOT to be a commissioner approved advisory group. Yet they went on to allow the group to advise the commissioners! Facilitating an exclusive group led by Chair Durgan to drive this project forward has dis-enfranchised the citizens of the entire Port Hadlock UGA. What were the commissioners thinking placing such a volatile person in charge of this quasi-secret advisory group? Were they trying to bypass the community, bypass regular procedures, knowing that close to 90% of Port Hadlock residents are against the idea of a sewer?
The initial sewer system is expected to cost $23 million.
CRPH RESPONSE: One week later the county reported the estimate to be $27 million. They just can’t get the costs settled.
The county is trying to create a project that will work for those in the community who want it, while not forcing people who don’t want it to pay for the project or hook up to the system.
CRPH RESPONSE: This statement is false. They have wording in their plans for Phase 2 and 3 in which they will start forcing people to hook up to the sewer. They will use the excuse that the septic system is “failing” or if it’s new construction they will be forced to hook up. The county is trying to drive down the initial costs of the sewer proposal, but that will only drive up the costs in the later phases of the plan.
“We know that this is totally dependent on getting enough federal and state subsidy to make it affordable,” she said.
CRPH RESPONSE: Commissioner Kate Dean thinks that if she can get the costs for hook-ups down to $20,000 then that is acceptable. We have spoken to business owners in the Core Area and they say $8,000 might be acceptable. But even $8,000 would only cover hook up costs – the additional costs and problems connected to the sewer are unacceptable to the overall community.
Dean said the county had offered Concerned Residents of Port Hadlock six pages of clarifications on statements they were making about the project that were not entirely accurate.
CRPH RESPONSE: Commissioner Kate Dean went on the attack against the Concerned Residents of Port Hadlock, claiming we were spreading “misinformation.” Then she wouldn’t identify even one example of misinformation our group was sharing. This is because what we were sharing came directly off the county reports and planning documents! The county Public Works director wrote a letter to our group attempting to contradict our claims, but in the process continued the obfuscations and twisted messages that had concerned us initially. So the county continued the double speak and verbal gymnastics, obscuring the real dangers of the sewer plan.
Officials have also offered to sit down in a meeting to talk through concerns with the group, but the offer has gone nowhere.
“Which is unfortunate,” Dean said.
CRPH RESPONSE: We were more than willing to meet with the officials, but we wanted to do it in public. We got that meeting on April 15 and over 50 people participated, many of whom are in our group. Dean’s statement is intended to paint the Concerned Residents of Port Hadlock in a negative light. What we saw on April 15 was Eisenhour and Dean completely ignoring our petition and the many concerns expressed in our individual comments. These two commissioners simply will not listen to our public input.
The commissioner also noted that most of the people who signed the petition do not live in the Phase 1 core area that the wastewater system would initially serve.
“It is largely folks who live outside of the core area; some who don’t live in Port Hadlock at all,” Dean said.
CRPH RESPONSE: Dean once again dismisses the public input from residents in the UGA of Port Hadlock. She is trying desperately to muzzle us, falsely characterizing the petition signers as “outsiders.” That is a direct attack against us and her claim is simply false. The petition signers live within the Port Hadlock UGA, are business owners or landowners within the UGA or have close connections with people who live here. Dean lives in Port Townsend! She knows full well that this Core Area sewer proposal impacts the entire Port Hadlock community, as well as anyone whose water comes from the Sparling well (Marrowstone, Chimacum, Indian Island, Oak Bay Road). The sewer threatens our salmon bearing stream – Chimacum Creek, our aquifer – Sparling well, and our backyards where many will be forced to have an open cesspool nearby.
The solids from that cesspool will be trucked out of the area and we also have a responsibility to the wider environment. Sewers are not a carbon neutral enterprise. There are various methods of disposal of sewer solids, some of which are broadcast over agricultural and forest lands. This might initially sound like a good idea, but professionals working in the sewer industry have shared with us that people on septic systems are generally more careful about what they put down their drains. Once hooked up to a sewer system they become more careless. As a result, we now know that solids from sewer systems are notorious for containing high levels of heavy metals and other toxins.
County Administrator Philip Morley also emphasized that those who don’t want the sewer system will be forced to pay for it.
CRPH RESPONSE: We suspect this is a typo and probably should have stated “will NOT be forced to pay for it.” However, that is still not true. The county has plans for Phase 2 and 3 and they have their ways of forcing people to hook up to the system. They will declare homeowner’s septic systems as “failing” when they need to switch to secondary drain fields or update their septic systems. They will force all new construction to hook up to the sewer and then houses within 200 feet of that new construction will have to follow.
“We don’t see the sewer being expanded there over the wishes of local folks,” Morley said.
“Public works is trying hard to set the boundaries to include those who are interested in participating, and trying to exclude those who don’t, he said.”
“There hasn’t been any decision on mandatory hookups, Morley added.”
CRPH RESPONSE: This is the punchline about requiring people to hook up – they have not decided. I hope everyone can see the double-speak here. In one statement they say that no one will be forced against their will to hook up to the sewer and then they say they have not yet decided about mandatory hookups. It is this kind of double-speak that initially motivated the Concerned Residents of Port Hadlock to demand “straight answers” from the county on their petition. The county won’t “require” people to hook up, they’ll just make it “mandatory!” How dumb do they think we are?
The county hopes to complete the final design of the Port Hadlock Wastewater System by the end of the year.
That design will lead to better details on the cost of the project.
The Phase 1 sewer service area covers 269 acres, according to information presented at last week’s meeting.
Most of that land — more than 158 acres — is zoned for commercial and industrial uses. Residential properties make up 75.7 acres of the Phase 1 area.
Officials noted that in the Port Hadlock Urban Growth Area, the total area where sewers could be installed, currently has about 1,200 septic systems, with 35 percent of those installed before 1985 and beyond their useful life.
CRPH RESPONSE: We hope everyone can see the seeds the county is planting here. They are implying that people who live in Port Hadlock have septic systems that can’t be used “beyond their useful life.” This is exactly the excuse they intend to use to force people to hook up to the sewer. It is a false choice since septic systems can be improved and updated. Septic systems can be switched over to secondary drain fields and work just fine. There are many fixes for septic systems if needed and hooking up to a sewer system is not required.
During Monday’s commissioners meeting, officials considered awarding a contract for the design, fabrication and installation of membrane bioreactor equipment that would be needed as part of the wastewater treatment system.
Ovivo USA of Salt Lake City, Utah, submitted the low bid for the contract with an amount of $1.6 million.
Commissioners agreed to postpone the bid award recommendation until their next meeting to give time for further research.
CRPH COMMENT: In a huge project such as this that impacts the community so strongly, the only right thing to do is to have a vote of the entire community about the sewer project. That means the entire Port Hadlock UGA – not just the Core Area! Do a formal poll of the community and have the county auditor oversee it in the same manner as an election.
Note: One issue not mentioned in the article that was brought up during the April 15 meeting was the plight of Port Hadlock residents, who do not own land. For example, there are those who live in manufactured home parks, who pay rent for a space to locate their home. The way the sewer financing process works, only landowners can vote on a LID. These residents and other renters would be completely dis-enfranchised if the vote were restricted to only landowners. We believe these residents deserve a voice in this matter since they will be just as impacted financially and environmentally as residents who own homes, businesses or land in the Port Hadlock area.