Groundwater in Island
City"): Role of
HOW DOES WHIDBEY ISLAND DIFFER FROM WESTON,
CT? OR NOT?
NOBODY IS TALKING GROUNDWATER INTRUSION, BUT WE'D GUESS IT IS PLAYING
Just our thought: Is
groundwater intrusion by the sea undermining waterfront hillsides in
Island County? So far, the experts are taking a more cosmic
Landslide Near Seattle Followed Years of
By KIRK JOHNSON, NYTIMES
The violent energy of the earth can sometimes feel predictable. An
earthquake striking a steep slope of gravel or boulders creates an
outcome that even a nongeologist could foresee. Volcanoes can literally
The huge landslide that struck early Wednesday morning on Whidbey
Island, about 50 miles north of Seattle, was the kind of event, though,
that can make things feel more fickle. The landslide, which destroyed
one home and left more than a dozen others cut off from access by road,
sent the equivalent of 40,000 dump-truck loads of earth — about 200,000
cubic yards — heaving toward Puget Sound. A road was shifted about 80
feet vertically and to the west. A forest at the top of a cliff was
pummeled to splinters on the beach. No one was injured.
Scientists at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources said
Thursday in a report that unlike, say, an ordinary mudslide or
avalanche — both of which have seasonal or environmental triggers,
especially around precipitation — the Whidbey slide was considered
“deep-seated.” That means, the report said, that the earth on Whidbey
Island has in fact been moving slowly for years — since at least 2002 —
as part of a larger “landslide complex” that may date back as far as
In other words, the slide was ultimately predictable in its inexorable,
gravity-fueled outcome, but unpredictable as to when a major slip might
occur. Around 4 a.m. Wednesday, the great load shifted and started
“Once an area slides, it will try to stabilize itself,” the Department
of Natural Resources said on its blog, Ear to the Ground. “The land
will slowly move in an attempt to do this. The chance of another
catastrophic movement is low; but possible.”
Meanwhile, other expressions of the earth’s restless energy are already
in play at the site. Wave action is eroding the tons of rubble piled
onto the beach, with small sections — small by landslide standards,
anyway, ranging up to 10 cubic feet in size — calving out into the
water with the tide.
Ledgewood devastated by landslide
By JUSTIN BURNETT, Whidbey News
Times Staff reporter
March 29, 2013 · Updated 2:07
An enormous landslide in Ledgewood
this morning has severely damaged at least one home and impacted more
than 30 others.
The slide occurred in the Central
Whidbey Community at about 4 a.m.
Hundreds of feet of earth sloughed off from the bluff above Driftwood
Way, destroying much of the road and knocking one home off its
"It's massive. I wouldn't even put a
description on it," said Chad Michael, assistant chief of Central
Whidbey Fire and Rescue.
Looking at the devastation from
above, the affected area appears to be
at least the size of two football fields. In fact, aerial footage from
news helicopters show a shoreline transformed, from a once straight
waterfront to one that now has a large peninsula jutting out into Puget
The destroyed road cutoff 17 homes,
five of which were occupied at the
time of the slide, Michael said. No one was hurt but the resident in a
home that was knocked off its foundation had a preexisting medical
condition and was transported to Whidbey General Hospital.
As of 10:30 a.m., Central Whidbey
Fire and Rescue emergency responders
were busy evacuating the remaining residents from their homes by boat.
According to Fire Chief Ed Hartin, a
total of 17 homes on Fircrest
Avenue have also been evacuated as sections of the bluff have continued
to slough off through the morning.
One resident, Bret Holmes, has been
losing more and more ground all
morning. Holmes said the first slide occurred just before 4 a.m. He was
awaken by what some have described as a "sonic boom."
"I heard something loud, looked out
my window and noticed I didn't have any trees in the front yard
anymore," he said.
Initially, his yard stretched more
than 30 feet to the bluff's edge.
The first slide took out a large portion but additional sloughing has
now left with him with about 15 feet.
"It's still moving," Hartin
"Two (homes) are significantly
threatened," he said.
Island County is bringing in a
geotechnical engineer this afternoon and
the evaluation results will determine how long residents will have to
stay away from their homes, Hartin said.
A Ledgewood water commissioner
confirmed water in the area has been
shutoff and county emergency management officials said the same had
been done for the electricity.
Island County Commissioner Helen
Price Johnson visited Ledgewood this
morning to see firsthand the devastation wrought by the landslide.
Struggling for words, she characterized the damage as "enormous" and
said she was "saddened" for Ledgewood residents.
"It's a tragic loss for these
property owners and this community," Price Johnson said. "We just need
to pull together."
It's unclear whether the damage can
even be repaired. A huge section of
Driftwood Way was completely destroyed and many of the homes along
Fircrest are threatened as sections of the bluff continue to slough off.
Holmes' house is one of those most
threatened and he was busy this
morning moving belongings to the garage, which is located behind the
house. While he's very worried about what will happen, he said he was
grateful to have not been hurt in the disaster.
Just yesterday, he had planned to
mow the backyard with his tractor.
"For some reason I decided against
it," Holmes said. "Thank God."
Weston, CT doesn't have "shoreline" but there are some "lakes" and
Conservation Commission most likely sees to this issue...we hope!
MANAGEMENT PLAN UP FOR APPROVAL
City asked to reduce water use
Sep 10 2010, 2:54 PM · UPDATED
Anacortes Water Treatment Plant
officials are asking the residents of Oak Harbor to cut back their
water use by 10 percent due to the low water level of the Skagit River.
The river is at less than 10 feet,
which is the basis for a Stage 1 water conservation implementation.
Stage 1 is voluntary conservation with the potential for a future
drought. Stage 2 is mandatory conservation.
The city of Oak Harbor has put
conservation measures in place at city parks and facilities and have
asked larger water customers such as the school district, Deception
Pass State Park and Whidbey Island Naval Air Station to do the same.
Environmental educator Maribeth
Crandell suggests these methods for easily reducing water use: take
five minute showers, only run full loads in the dishwasher or washing
machine, only water plants at dawn or dusk, use rain barrels for
outdoor watering, fix leaks as soon as possible and reduce toilet
Currently the water department is
offering to do free home or business water audits. For more information
and tips contact the city of Oak Harbor at 279-4500 or access the web
program seen as successful so far
By JESSIE STENSLAND, Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
Aug 24 2010, 3:43 PM · UPDATED
Mark Lenocker pulled the first
of three lids off a septic mound system at a North Whidbey home
Wednesday afternoon and immediately knew something was wrong. A solid
mass of shiny-brown sewage was at the top, nearly overflowing from the
At the next lid, it was clear
that effluent had been escaping from the septic tank for quite some
time onto the lawn where the owner’s dog plays.
“That’s not good,” Lenocker said
to his boss, Bruce Silvia of Oak Harbor’s Silvia Septic Service.
The men were at the home to do
an annual inspection of the mound system, as required by Island County
code. They discovered that the floats weren’t working properly, which
stopped the pumps and allowed sewage to overfill the tanks.
The fix was relatively simple,
Silvia said, but it’s clear that the inspection prevented much more
serious problems. Unchecked, the build-up of sewage could have caused
the system to fail, which would cost an estimated $18,000 to repair.
And the sewage in the lawn poses a risk to human health and the
Commercial septic pumpers and
inspectors have an obvious bias, but by and large they seem supportive
of the county’s controversial mandatory septic program. County health
department officials reported good news about the program at a Board of
Health meeting last week, but obvious challenges remain.
The deadline for all Island
County residents with septic tanks to get them inspected has now
passed, but only about 15 percent of homeowners on septic systems have
complied with the requirement. It’s clearly not a popular program.
Residents crowded into meeting last year and sent letters to the county
venting their anger at the requirements.
Perhaps the biggest complaint
was about the $62 fee the county charges at the time inspections
reports are filed. The county commissioners had promised that the fee
was temporary, but it remains.
The county’s program implements
the state requirement that residents have conventional, gravity septic
systems inspected every three years, and more complex systems — like
mounds — inspected annually.
“I think it’s a good idea, but
it may need to be refined a little,” Silvia said, adding that the fee
should be modified. “We’re on an island and it all ends up somewhere.
We don’t want it to get into the shellfish or go into ditches or lawns
where children play.”
Aaron Henderson, the county’s
environmental health director, said commercial septic inspectors on the
island tell him that they find problems with about half of the septic
systems they inspect.
Both Silvia and Ron Brown of
Brown Bear Septic Pumping on South Whidbey agree.
“Quite a few systems have minor
problems. It’s usually something that can be fixed,” Brown said, but
added that his company has also discovered systems that have failed.
Silvia said the average cost of
inspecting a simple gravity system is around $150. Yet he said it would
be less if more people complied with the county rules, so that he could
do inspections a neighborhood at a time.
Last week, health department
staff members told the county Board of Health that the controversial
septic program is pretty successful, compared to other counties.
“Every county has been trying to
figure it out and are struggling...” Joe Laxson, environmental health
specialist, said. “I think we’ve gotten better results than other
counties. I think we have a better balance.”
Keith Higman, director of the
health department, gave a brief history of the rules regarding septic
tank inspections. He explained that the state left counties with little
leeway in how the program is implemented. Basically, the counties can
only decide who can inspect the systems and how the county’s programs
Laxson gave a Powerpoint
presentation that compared Island County’s program with other counties’
programs. Island County is only one of eight counties that allows
homeowners to inspect their own septic tanks, unless it’s a complex
system. The county’s septic university, Homeowner Septic Training or
HOST, has graduated more than 5,000 people in three years.
Island County Public Health is
moving forward slowly with compliance and enforcement efforts. In the
first such action, staff members recently sent out a “reminder” letter
to residents in the South Holmes Harbor Shellfish District who haven’t
filed a septic inspection report.
Henderson said he wants to give
all the people on the long waiting list for HOST to get a chance to
take a class and do their own inspection before the county gets serious
Henderson said he hopes to get
the 101 septic inspection class online this fall so that people can go
through it at home. They still would have to take the 201 class, but it
would hasten the process.
Counties in the state fund the
septic system programs from at least a couple of sources, but it
appears that Island County’s much-maligned $62 fee, due at the filing
of the inspection report, is one of the most costly in the state. King
County, for example, charges a $100 fee, but that’s only due at the
time of sale. Skagit County funds the program through a clean water
utility tax, which is what officials in Island County are considering.
Higman has been opposed to the
$62 fee, arguing that it would be a disincentive for people to get
their septic tanks inspected. Higman estimated low initial compliance
with the program among the estimated 26,000 septic tank owners in the
county, so the fee had to be at a level to make up for all those who
The commissioners are moving forward with a clean water
utility tax in a phased approach. They have discussed creating a
per-parcel fee to pay for the $200,000-a-year septic program, a
hydrogeologist, surface water monitoring, salmon recovery and several
other water-related projects. If it’s adopted, the $62 septic fee would
go away, plus the tax could free up much-needed current expense funds.
District soon available to discuss health related items in these two
Septic anger flows over
By JESSIE STENSLAND, Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
Sep 15 2009, 3:49 PM
An overflowing crowd of septic tank
owners told the Island County Board of Health that the On-Site Sewer
Operations and Maintenance Program stinks. More than 130 residents filled the
Coupeville Recreation Hall Monday night to air their grievances with
the program, which requires regular inspections of septic systems in
the county. Oak Harbor
resident Keith Brady was cheered for his comments suggesting the
program is “overkill” and that resident should be trusted to keep their
septic tanks working properly.
“I don’t need Big Brother to hold my
hand...” he said. “If a system doesn’t work, the owner is immediately
knee-deep in doo-doo.”
The members of the Board of Health,
which includes the county commissioners, called the special meeting to
discuss anxiety about the inspection requirements. A $62 fee
implemented in May brought residents’ concerns to a head.
Island County Health
Department Director Keith Higman said afterward that he felt the
meeting was very productive, even though there were some angry
outbursts. When Higman suggested during the meeting that he “might get
lynched,” someone in the crowd yelled, “Good idea.”
Higman began the meeting with a
history of the program, as well as startling data about nitrate
pollution in wells on the island and fecal coliform in surface water.
Faulty septic tanks probably cause, or at least contribute, to the
“The effluent that goes into your
septic tank eventually comes out your faucet,” he said.
In an interview Tuesday, Higman said
the citizens’ comments from the meeting could bring about changes in
the county’s inspection program, perhaps involving the fee and rules
about who can inspect certain systems. But he said many of the
requirements, such as the frequency of inspections, come from the
Washington State Board of Health as required by the Legislature, and
the county must comply. A
number of issues bubbled to the surface as more than 20 residents spoke
Monday night. The sheer cost of the program was the main concern,
especially for residents with alternative systems.
People with gravity or “conventional
systems” have to have their septic tanks inspected every three years.
That costs anywhere from $120 to $300 to hire a county-certified
professional, though residents can take a class to learn to inspect the
systems themselves. In addition, the county charges $62 at the time the
inspection report is filed. Residents with alternative septic
systems, such as mound systems, are required to have inspections every
year. They cannot inspect the systems themselves. That means they are
required to pay a professional and the $62 fee each year.
But in another wrinkle, residents
with pressure distribution systems, with simple pumps, can inspect
their own systems unless they live in the sensitive areas near Penn
Cove or Holmes Harbor. Most
of the speakers objected to the requirement that alternative systems
will be inspected annually, which is a dictate from the state Board of
Health. Oak Harbor resident Brian Williams was among many residents who
were upset that they couldn’t inspect their alternative systems, which
was a decision made by the county Board of Health.
“This personally insults my
intelligence and my ability,” he said.
Ron Brown, owner of Brown Bear
Septic Pumping of Clinton, agreed that the inspection requirements are
too frequent, but he was concerned about people’s ability to inspect
the systems themselves. He said some are very complicated and not so
easy to fix. Many
people in the audience didn’t like the $62 fee, especially when they
found out why it is so high. Higman said he expects low initial
compliance with the program among the estimated 26,000 septic tank
owners in the county, so the fee had to be at a level to make up for
all those who won’t pay. The program costs about $200,000 a year to run.
“You should bust their chops,” Kirby
Stevens of Coupeville said about those who don’t comply.
Higman agreed that the fee at the
time of inspection is a bad idea because it acts as a disincentive to
comply. He said the county Board of Health adopted the fee against his
advice. He suggested that the county commissioners should create a
special district and collect a fee through the property tax system.
Everyone with septic tanks would pay, so the fee would only have to be
Island County Commissioner Helen
Price Johnson told the crowd that she never intended for the fee to be
a permanent, but it was just a stopgap measure amid a fiscal emergency.
The fee was adopted while the county was dealing with a $2 million
budget shortfall. Other
residents complained that septic tanks are being unfairly targeted for
causing pollution. Some people said the real concern should be old
beach cabins with ancient septic systems. Others pointed out that
there’s much larger sources of pollution in Puget Sound, from cruise
ships to Canada dumping raw sewage.
“It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a
double amputee,” Chris Simundson of Coupeville said.
Still, the program has had success.
Aaron Henderson, the county’s director of environmental health, said 24
“failed” septic tanks were discovered so far.
Town hall on septics likely to be
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
Sep 11 2009, 3:14 PM · UPDATED
Undigested sewage may hit the
baffle, metaphorically speaking, at a special Island County Board of
Health meeting Monday night to discuss the county’s septic system
Aaron Henderson, the county’s
director of environmental health, said the county has received many
requests from the public for such a forum and he expects it to be very
animated. He said a lot of the recent interest in — and some anger
about — the septic inspection program is a result of a new $62 permit
filing fee, on top of inspection costs.
Henderson said officials have
discussed abandoning the contentious fee and finding other funding, but
they want to hear what the public has to say.
“I think all of us want to keep an
open mind to alternatives,” he said.
The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m.
at the Coupeville Recreation Hall on NW Alexander Street.
North Whidbey resident Skip Augle
plans to attend the meeting, which he predicts will be similar to
recent town-hall meetings on health care. A lot of people, he said,
aren’t happy with the septic program for various reasons.
Augle said he’s in favor of
inspection, but he sees no reason he should have to pay someone to look
at his system each and every year.
“My concern is when bureaucrats in
$100 suits and $150 ties try to dictate to me the frequency ...” he
said. “The guy who takes care of my system is a professional, trained
and certified by the county, and he says I don’t need an inspection for
at least three years.”
Under county rules, homeowners with
conventional gravity septic systems are required to have an inspection
every three years. Those with alternative systems must have them
inspected each year.
The county offers a class for people
who want to learn to inspect their own systems, saving them the
estimated $120 to $300 price tag from a professional. But that doesn’t
apply to people with so-called alternative systems who live in areas
deemed as environmentally sensitive.
Augle went through the county’s
training and learned afterward that he can’t do his own inspections.
His “simple pump system” is considered an alternative system and his
section of the Rolling Hills neighborhood is considered a sensitive
area. That means he’ll have to pay for an inspection and the $62 fee
“They’re basically jacking up my
property taxes by $225 every year,” Augle said.
As Henderson explained, the septic
maintenance program comes as a result of “a partially funded mandate”
handed down in 2005 from the state Board of Health of all counties
bordering Puget Sound.
The county adopted its management
plan in 2007 and the program started in 2008.
The problem, Henderson said, has
been finding a way to fund the program, which will cost the county
about $200,000 next year. Henderson was able to obtain a $100,000 grant
from the state for two years of the program.
The county Board of Health,
including the three elected county commissioners, originally decided to
charge a septic fee at the time a house is sold, but the downfall in
the housing market meant nowhere near enough money was collected. In
April, the Board of Health adopted the current $62 fee that must be
paid when the inspection report is filed with the Health Department.
The deadline for homeowners with
alternative systems to file the first inspection report was July 1,
2009. The deadline for people with conventional systems is July 1, 2010.
On Monday, Henderson and Keith
Higman, the director of the county health department, will begin the
special session with a presentation about the history of the rules, the
science underlying the rules, and the county’s program in relation to
Then they will listen to public
Henderson said the inspection
program may not be perfect, but he said it has already prevented septic
tanks from failing. That’s good for human health, the environment and
the homeowners’ pocketbooks.
“I hope people come to the meeting
with open minds and see the importance and value of the program,” he
County’s $5 land tax tossed by court
February 19, 2012 · Updated 6:13 AM
A Supreme Court ruling filed Thursday likely means that a special
$5-per-parcel assessment to fund the Whidbey Island and Snohomish
County conservation districts violates state law.
In response, the Board of Island County Commissioners is holding a
special session at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21 to consider whether to
schedule a public hearing to repeal the 2009 ordinance that imposed the
Among the likely topics of conversation is whether the county will have
to refund the assessments, a total of about $470,000, for the two years
they were collected. Under an interlocal agreement between the
conservation districts and the county, the districts are financially
responsible if refunds have to be given, according to county Budget
Director Elaine Marlow.
Yet Island County Treasurer Ana Maria Nunez said Friday that, under
state law, the county isn’t required to refund property taxes that are
found to be illegal or excessive unless an individual taxpayer has
submitted an official protest of the tax to the treasurer. She’s not
aware that anyone did that.
Karen Bishop, manager of the Whidbey Island Conservation District, said
the district will work with the county commissioners “to appropriately
amend the ordinance to insure that it is in compliance with the state
law in light of the recent Supreme Court Decision.”
Commissioner Kelly Emerson took the opportunity to gloat. She wasn’t on
the board at the time the ordinance was adopted, but she said she spoke
out against it.
“I’m celebrating another occasion in which I was right,” said Emerson,
the lone Republican on the board.
In 2009, the county officials modeled their ordinance after Mason
County’s ordinance, which had been upheld by the Court of Appeals. But
the appellate court decision was appealed to the state Supreme Court,
which ruled Thursday that the Mason County ordinance is invalid. The
decision was unanimous, though one justice did not participate.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Mason County ordinance violated state
law because it didn’t include a per-acre fee. The justices did not
address the issue of whether the ordinance was an unconstitutional tax,
so that issue remains unresolved.
State law authorizes a county to impose a special assessment to fund a
conservation district, but the law states the assessment must either be
a uniform per-acre assessment or a flat per-parcel plus a uniform per
acre fee. Either way, there’s supposed to be a per-acre fee.
Mason County officials were concerned about the administrative costs of
collecting a per-acre fee, so they elected to only impose the flat
$5-per-parcel fee. Four Mason County citizens challenged the
assessment, arguing that it violated the state law and was an
unconstitutional property tax.
After the Appeals Court sided with Mason County, the Island County
commissioners adopted a similar ordinance. Bishop said that originally
the district proposed a per-acre fee, but the Island County assessor
argued that it wasn’t possible to calculate parcel acreage.
Commissioners Helen Price Johnson, Angie Homola and John Dean
unanimously approved the ordinance. It wasn’t without controversy, as
some citizens concerned about a new tax spoke out against it.
Island County’s assessment has generated around $235,000 per year. It
is split between the Whidbey Island Conservation District as well as
the Snohomish County Conservation District, which covers Camano Island
and can only use the money for activities on Camano Island. The
districts used the money for natural resource planning and technical
assistance, low-impact development planning, preservation of
sustainable farm and forest lands, outreach and education
Wetland regulations substantially upheld
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
Nov 25 2008, 1:38 PM ·
A South Whidbey environmental
group’s challenge to Island County’s new wetland regulations was
successful on three issues that must be fixed in the next 90 days.
Nevertheless, members of Whidbey
Environmental Action Network, known as WEAN, aren’t thrilled with the
89-page decision from the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings
Board, which found in favor of the county on 10 other issues.
“There were a couple of things that
even they could not swallow,” said Marianne Edain of WEAN, who’s
dismayed at the direction the hearings board has taken over the last
few years. “They just threw us a bone.”
In addition, the hearings board
didn’t agree with WEAN’s co-petitioner, Camano Action For a Rural
Environment or CARE, on any of the seven issues they brought forward.
Island County Planning Director Jeff
Tate is pleased with the decision and describes the three areas that
need fixes as minor, “no brainers” that will be easy to amend. He
points out that the board didn’t invalidate the ordinance.
“In effect, the Growth Management
Hearings Board doesn’t think that the things requiring fixes are
significant,” he said.
Specifically, the board ruled that
the county must amend the definition of “reasonable use” so that it’s
more limited in scope; remove an arbitrary 25 percent limit on
increases to wetland buffers; and create a monitoring program for rural
The county’s wetland ordinance,
which covers non-agriculture land, was adopted by county commissioners
in March. It deals with setbacks between development and wetlands as
well as a myriad other issues. Under state law, the county is required
to adopt a series of ordinances to protect critical areas — namely
geologically hazardous; frequently flooded; aquifer recharge; wetlands;
and fish and wildlife.
Instead of adopting the state’s
model rules, Tate explained that the county developed a one-of-a-kind,
custom-made wetland ordinance appropriate for the county’s two major
“The entire structure of the
county’s wetlands ordinance is so complicated that we don’t believe
it’s reasonably possible to protect wetlands using this incredibly
difficult tool,” Edain said.
Tate admits that it is complex, but
he said it will meet the important goals.
“You can adopt something that’s
black and white and really easy to understand, but black and white is
really rigid,” he said. “As you add flexibility and options to an
ordinance, it becomes more complicated.”
Gov. Chris Gregoire directed two
state agencies to file briefs with the hearings board in support of the
county’s wetland ordinance. The three-member Western Washington Growth
Management Hearings Board’s job is to decide if new ordinances and
rules comply with the state’s Growth Management Act.
WEAN feels that the county’s wetland
ordinance will ultimately lead to the destruction of wetlands because
it allows, in Edain’s words, “a million-and-one, get-out-of-jail-free
cards” for developers who want to drain wetlands.
Edain said WEAN, and possibly CARE,
will likely ask the board to reconsider the decision, which they have
10 days to do. But beyond that, Edain expects that WEAN and other
environmental groups will be able to work with the new Island County
commissioners on wetland and other ordinances instead of resorting to
“Everything changed on Nov. 4,”
Edain said, referring to the election of Helen Price Johnson and Angie
Homola, both Democrats, to the board of Island County commissioners.
During the campaigns, both women
were critical of the wetland ordinance, while the incumbent candidates
trumpeted it as a model for the rest of the state.
“The reason we had to bring a
challenge in the first place is that the sitting commissioners made it
their policy not to listen to WEAN,” Edain said. “We’re hoping with the
new commissioners we can deal with the issues earlier and not have to
go through this.”
Water connects islanders, is a focus in development
By SPENCER WEBSTER
South Whidbey RECORD
Aug 04 2007
COUPEVILLE — A childhood rhyme tells
rain, rain to go away. If that rhyme rang true and the rainfall ceased
on Island County, a lot of people might get pretty thirsty 20 years
Every glass of water Whidbey
Islanders drink, every car they wash and every shower they take is
supplied by a groundwater aquifer, which is fed only by rain.
As communities on Whidbey’s south
end such as Freeland and Langley deal with growth management issues,
they share issues and concerns about Island County’s water resources
and how best to manage those resources. Because Island County does not get water
from any other source, the United States Environmental Protection
Agency has designated the county as a sole-source aquifer.
“It doesn’t mean there is just one
aquifer. What it means is that groundwater is your only source of water
and if you lost your groundwater source, you’d be in trouble because
there is no other source for you,” said Island County’s
hydro-geologist, Doug Kelly.
Island County’s fresh water
aquifers, he said, were formed when glaciers departed from Whidbey
Island nearly 15,000 years ago leaving layers of water-bearing sand and
gravel behind. Non-water bearing layers are called aquatards, and
consist of silt and clay and act as filters and boundaries for
aquifers, said Kelly.
Groundwater, as a sole-source of the
island’s fresh or potable water, presents some challenges, however, to
scientists like Kelly and can hinder development of urban areas.
One challenge to the county’s fresh
water supply is that if unchecked water usage continues from a single
aquifer, as a majority of the county’s wells have drilled into, the
aquifers water level can drop. Because Whidbey Island is surrounded by
Puget Sound, the aquifer runs the risk of contamination from what is
called sea water intrusion, Kelly said.
“Sea water intrusion is the
principle concern for water in this county,” he said. “With the
aquifers generally connected to the Puget Sound, if you pull too much
water from them, water levels will drop a little ways down, but when
they reach near sea level, the salt water starts coming in. You end up
with a salty aquifer.”
The proliferation of individual
wells and the potential of drawing sea water into the aquifer as a
result of those wells drawing from a single source caused sea water
intrusion policy to be implemented at the state level with the Growth
Management Act, said Kelly.
“The county has a sea water
protection code. In 1991, Island County was the first county to create
policy. We have, by far, the strictest code in the state. We actually
regulate all the way down to individual wells,” he said. “If it is in
an area where sea water intrusion is a problem, we say you cannot drill
a well or use that well for a building permit.”
Another challenge Kelly sees is
potential contamination of the aquifer during the well drilling
“Every hole that you drill creates a
vulnerability to the water because almost everywhere in the county
there are significant numbers of these layers of silt and clay that
don’t stop flow downward, but slow it,” he said.
“They create a really good filter
system so that contaminants that occur at land surface, whether natural
or human-created, typically don’t make their way down through those big
thick aquatards. When you punch a well through that aquatard, you have
created a pathway vertically around that well.”
But there is a solution, said Kelly.
It exists in the form of public water services and provides a number of
benefits to all users of fresh water.
“One of the big benefits for public
water systems is that they have the fiscal capacity to deal with
problems should they occur,” he said.
“If Freeland grows, and they
continue using their current well fields, and they begin to see
problems, they have the financial capacity to drill a new well two
miles away. No individual homeowner could afford to move a pipeline two
miles inland and drill a new well.”
With a managed water service, there
are fewer wells to be drilled, thus fewer ways for the groundwater to
become contaminated, said Kelly. Regular monitoring for salt and
contamination is a third benefit.
“There is regular monitoring. Big
water systems sample everything under the sun on a pretty regular
basis,” he said. “Tiny water systems sample for almost nothing almost
never and individual wells sample once and that is it. There is some
assurance of water quality and management that goes on with bigger
systems that does not occur with smaller ones.”
For Kelly, fresh uncontaminated
water is vital to Island County’s health and managing that resource is
the best way he sees to mitigate the risks to it.
“A managed water system is a good
thing for the aquifer and for public health,” he said. “So both
environmental and public health benefit from a managed water system as
opposed to a whole bunch of individual wells.”
paragraphs in the newspaper report, for your convenience, are:
Coleman, Island County Planning and Development assistant planner,
presented the population projections to the Island County Planning
Commission Wednesday. The process for determining the likely county
population over approximately the next two decades began in 2004 when
the county presented OFM’s numbers to the commission.
The commission deliberated on the figures and decided on a compromise
between the medium and high figures, or 110,050. The projections were
then forwarded to cities and towns to enable personnel to incorporate
the numbers into their population projections.
The jump from 77,261 people in 2005 to 110,050 in 2025 represents a
20-year increase of 32,789 people or 30 percent. The projections show
the county’s population increasing by about 8,000 people every five
years beginning in 2005..."
Resources Program: http://www.islandcounty.net/health/Envh/enviro.htm#Resources
Coupeville expands its water service
By Nathan Whalen
Apr 08 2006
The town of Coupeville is looking to expand its water service area
boundary, ending a moratorium that goes back years.
The expansion follows system improvements that make available more
water to town residents and those in outlying areas. The proposed
plan would expand the service area basically from Libby Road to
Outlying Field and the border of Admirals Cove. With expanding
the service area, the town is looking to repeal an ordinance
prohibiting the sale of water hookups to out-of-town customers.
The proposed expansion won’t affect smaller utilities, such as ones at
Long Point, Crockett Heights and Barrett Road, that lie within the
proposed expanded service area, Mayor Nancy Conard said. The town
is able to expand its service area because of a new well that will be
drilled near Keystone Road on Central Whidbey Island. The
centrally-located well would access a large aquifer that promises a new
supply of fresh water.
“It looks like there is adequate water in the aquifer,” Nancy Conard
said. Doug Kelly, hydrologist for the Island County Health
Department, said the town’s current wells, located in town and near
Fort Casey, are susceptible to saltwater intrusion and the new well,
which is located further inland, won’t have that problem. Kelly
cited the work to research and compile the water management plan that
helped find a good aquifer for the town’s water system. He said
that expanding Coupeville’s water service area will help centralize
water service to an entity that has the resources to manage it.
“It allows us to manage the resource better than any individual can,”
said Bob Clay, member of the Coupeville Town Council during a recent
meeting. The county has two wells near where the town wants to
place its new well. The county uses one of the wells for irrigation at
Rhododendron Park. Kelly said the county wells shouldn’t affect the
town’s plans. The town is currently accepting bids for the new
well. The well is expected to produce 60 gallons of water per minute
which should provide water for 200 additional customers.
The town prohibited new hookups for out-of-town customers in the
mid-1990s because the town didn’t have the infrastructure and water
supply to properly serve them.
Conard said improvements have been made over the years. Those
improvements include installation of a new water tower, replacement of
a water main near Fort Casey, and improvement of the water treatment
system and wastewater treatment facility. The new service area boundary
is based on a review of population densities, current water rights the
town holds, the current water system and what areas could eventually
access water mains.
“We have been very careful in understanding what the maximum density
will be,” Mayor Conard told the council. The Coupeville Town
Council approved the first reading of the proposed ordinance during a
late March meeting. The ordinance comes up again during its April 11
meeting that begins at 6:30 p.m. in the commissioners’ hearing room at
the courthouse annex building.
The council will also look at an ordinance that would allow the
purchase of in-town water hookups without a building permit application.
The Coupeville Town Council could approve a resolution to expand
the water service area and to allow the sale of water hookups without a
building permit. The council meets Tuesday, April 11, 6:30 p.m.
at the Commissioners Hearing Room in the Courthouse Annex Building.
Island County water plan
By ERIC BERTO
May 28 2005
county’s best efforts, just how much water is available underground is
still not known, nor is it ever likely to be.
At a public
hearing Monday about the proposed Watershed Management Plan, a riptide
of criticism was evident in the comments. North Whidbey resident
Donna Painter said that the plan, which has been five years and
in the making, contains a lot of uncertainties and non-answers.
resident Al Williams said that the plan does not adequately protect the
existing water supply.
“What is this
going to level to?” Williams asked during the hearing. “Particularly
there’s an insurgency of people that are looking at this as an area
is prime for development.”
Don Lee, chairman
of the Water Resource Advisory Committee, said that serious threats to
the county’s water supply do exist, but there is no need to panic about
the availability of water in the future.
involved with planning; we’re not involved with land use,” he said. “We
are involved with trying to figure out the water situation.”
is in a unique situation with its water supply. It has more than 850
systems, which supply water to all of the county, except Oak Harbor and
NAS Whidbey. Most places in the state only have one or two water
Island County relies on five different aquifers for its drinking
It does not rely on lakes or rivers like the rest of the state.
“We’re a different
beast than the rest of the state,” Island County Environmental Health
Keith Higman said. “We don’t rely on a river or lake source.”
biggest focus is on combating seawater intrusion, which is when
moves into a freshwater aquifer. It affects areas near the shore and
that are below sea level. The plan would modify the county’s seawater
policy to include data on the water elevation of a proposed well.
wells will also be subject to a review of their effects on the aquifer
as a whole. If in an area that is at risk of intrusion, a well would be
subject to evaluation. Higman said that only one way exists to
how much water is available for the future.
“The only way
we’ll ever know how much water we have is to dig up the whole island
see what we have,” Higman said.
has also developed a critical aquifer recharge area map. This map
areas that allow for better recharge of the aquifers. According to the
plan, only 20 to 34 percent of the rain that falls in the county makes
its way back into the ground. With the new map, developers will
better able to plan improvements around areas where water is more
to be available.
In places with
shallow aquifers, for example, rainwater may not be filtered of all
The plan also encourages low-impact development in order to maintain
recharge rates. This means limiting the amount of clearing,
and retention of runoff in developing areas.
The plan also
proposes utilizing reclaimed water for uses such as farm irrigation. In
addition, the idea of using “hauled water for emergency or short-term
supply. Water could be hauled by truck or boat,” is proposed in the
Navy, county to test private
March 23, 2005
By Susan Mador
Naval Air Station plans to sample privately- owned wells adjacent to
property to detect whether a chemical has migrated past the current
a news release the base issued Tuesday, representatives from the base
Island County Health Department will discuss the situation in a media
today. The chemical, 1,4-dioxane, was used as a stabilizer in
solvents used to clean aircraft parts. In high levels, the chemical can
“At this point
we don’t know the extent of the contaminant,” Keith Higman, Island
environmental health director, said Tuesday morning. For the past
10 years, the Navy has been treating contaminated groundwater beneath
old landfill on Navy property known as Landfill 6. This former landfill
is south of Ault Field Road and west of Highway 20.
Island County will work with the Navy to develop a testing program to
where the dioxane has spread. Higman stressed that the
Protection Agency’s recommended concentration level of 4 milligrams per
liter is far above the level of dioxane in groundwater found at the
property line. That level is 7.95 parts per billion (ppb). The maximum
level found in groundwater is 14 ppb at the landfill site
has detected groundwater concentrations ranging from a high of 14 parts
per billion to about 7 ppb at the Navy property line. While a federal
Contaminate Level for consumption of 1,4-dioxane in drinking water has
not been developed, Washington state has established a groundwater
level of 7.95 ppb.
most residents in the area use city water but there are private wells
the area. Higman referred to a data sheet issued by the Agency of
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry that lists dioxane as a compound
that is “reasonably anticipated” to cause cancer in humans. In
early 1990s, solvents trichloroethylene (TCE) and 1,1,1-trichloroethane
(TCA) were identified as contaminants and a treatment system was
to remove them from the groundwater and return the treated water to the
Ten years ago,
when the base began monitoring the site, low levels of 1,4-dioxane
not be detected. New methods now make it possible to detect this
according to the Navy’s news release. Tests of monitoring wells at
6 indicate the presence of 1,4-dioxane.
including Clu-in.org, Envirotools.org and checnet.org, classify
as a “possible” or “probable” factor in human cancer. These sites list
“chronic, long term exposure” as the most likely to cause cancer.
inhaling the chemical at industrial sites face the greatest human
Laboratory animals have developed certain kidney, liver and gall
cancers after exposure.
One Web site
calculates a person would have to drink two liters of water with a
greater than 3 ppb for more than 70 years to generate one additional
case out of a population of 1 million people.
By Eric Berto, Whidbey News-Times
Mar 23 2005
the crowd of approximately 12
people poured into their seats, the speakers each took a sip of water.
fitting beginning for a presentation
on the upcoming Water Resource Management Plan, which occurred Monday
in Oak Harbor. Currently under development, the plan will recommend how
to protect Island County’s water.
70 percent of the county’s
residents rely on groundwater for their potable drinking water. But the
status of the hundreds of aquifers is still largely unknown.
accurately assess how many gallons
there are is impossible,” said Don Lee, chairman of the Water Resources
Advisory Committee. “And you can’t do something that’s impossible.”
residents currently draw approximately
1 billion gallons of water out of the aquifers each year. By 2025, when
the county’s population is expected to expand to 100,000 residents, an
additional half billion gallons will be used.
big thing is that nobody knows
how much is down there,” said Barry Meaux, who manages a water system
approximately 30 people outside of Oak Harbor. The plan will
out of five years of work by the WRAC. In an effort to address the
of the county’s water supply, it has developed a series of papers that
offer suggestions of how to conserve water, Lee said.
trying to make the plan itself
only 30 to 40 pages,” he said. “Maybe we have a better chance of people
using it if we make it terse and to the point.” The plan will
such threats to the aquifers as sea water intrusion. When salt water
a well, it renders that water undrinkable because of salt and other
biggest threat is still sea
water intrusion,” Lee said. “Most people want to live near the water,
as they develop along the coast, it’s more likely they will develop a
Harbor resident Bill Applegate
said he attended the forum to learn more about the future of his water
are reliant on ground water,”
he said. “I think it’s one of the most important issues in Island
Applegate said that a plan for Island
County has been a long time coming.
can’t believe all of the work
that has gone into this,” he said. “When we moved here, they had no
what was down there.”
open house was the first of four
that are planned before a draft is finished by May 9. All forums run
6 to 8 p.m. and will occur March 23 at the Bayview Community Hall,
4 at the Coupeville Rec Center and April 13 at the Camano Senior Center.
of the Island County Board of Health
Regular Meeting Monday April 19,
2004 (NOTE: only part of this agenda)
William J. Byrd; Mac McDowell, Mike Shelton; Barbara Saugen, WGH
and Captain Susan B. Herrold, NC USN (Naval Hospital Oak Harbor); Roger
S. Case, M.D., Executive Secretary to the Board
Mayor Patty Cohen,
Survey – related to this paper?
Intrusion _Final Code_.pdf
This report was given by S.S. Sumioka,
Mark Savoca, and Doug Kelly. During the past five years USGS has
conducted a study about ground water in Island County. 80% of
County’s population uses ground water as its potable water. The
Estimating ground water recharge from precipitation
Applying a Deep Percolation Module
Estimating groundwater recharge in 6 study basins-South Camano, North
North Whidbey, Penn Cove, Cultus Creek, and South Whidbey State Park.
considered certain variables — range of precipitation, types of soils,
(most of island is made of impermeable soils), and vegetation effects
the water for recharge
Estimated recharge “average”: Whidbey = 5.71”; Camano = 5.98”
Deep Percolation model showed annual average recharge for the 6 study
to be approximately 6”; the Chloride Mass Balance approximately
Kelly gave a brief summation
of Why & What are we going to do with the information that was
flow modules for county
(gives lots of information.)
Shed Planning — the assessment:
Phase II (Numeric quantification of water resources)
looking at sea water intrusion
Artificial Recharge – is it possible? – how possible?
Readying for Phase III
Shelton thanked Steve Sumioka and Mark Savoca for their work in this
and said that they could always depend upon Doug Kelly to give
information regarding our water and not information based on politics.
. . “even though it may not be what we want to hear”. Rufus Rose,
a resident of South Whidbey, then asked if this presentation could be
to the “Old Goats” on South Whidbey. Doug’s answer was in the
South Whidbey RECORD, Dec. 27, 2004
in water needs to go in 2006
By STEPHEN MERCER
in water is odorless, tasteless
and may only cause health problems if consumed in large quantities over
the course of decades. Yet by 2006, many Island County residents may
to start spending big bucks to remove arsenic from their water supplies.
Kelly, a hydrogeologist for
Island County, said 18 to 20 percent of all Island County wells have
for arsenic in the last couple years at levels exceeding the upcoming
parts per billion federal standard (ppb). When compared to the state’s
other counties, this is an unusually high percentage, said Vin Sherman,
Island County’s water program supervisor.
10 ppb standard is part of the
Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Water Drinking Act. Passed in
it drops the highest acceptable level of arsenic in water from 50 ppb
10 ppb starting in 2006. That change put far more water systems in
of the rule, Kelly said.
we were at 50, we had very
few systems that exceeded that value,” he said.
Campbell, a South Whidbey water
systems manager who maintains a number of community water systems, said
more than 5 to 6 percent of the water systems he tests are above the 10
ppb benchmark, at least triple the amount of water systems that were
Sherman said the county’s unusually
high arsenic levels is due to high levels of unconsolidated sand and
eroding into the water table. When water moves through an aquifer,
or river, arsenic bonds to the iron in the sand and gravel. The arsenic
is eventually drawn into community water supplies, he said.
and Kelly said arsenic has
been linked to various types of cancer and other diseases, although
said someone may have to drink from the same water source for 50 to 60
years to develop an illness. There’s a “one in a million” chance that
would become ill, he said.
with stricter federal laws going
into effect about one year from now, Island County residents may have
collectively pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to either filter the
arsenic from the water or use another method to meet arsenic standards.
many Whidbey Island communities
getting an early start to meet the lower standards, the impending
has been met with a fair amount of resistance, said Coupeville water
manager Clyde Desty.
can be a significant financial
burden,” he said.
water systems will be hit the
hardest. Desty said the smaller the number of hookups, the more each
customer will have to pay.
typical community system will likely
have to pay $40,000 and $600,000 to design and test an arsenic filter
and to monitor it, said Andy Campbell and Desty. The whole process
take 18 months, Desty said.
said if a community can’t
afford the system, state public works trust fund loans are available.
said communities should mention the arsenic levels when funding,
is the ticket to get the
loan,” he said.
the coming financial impact
of the impending arsenic standards, Steve Hulsman of the state
of Health noted that no affected water system is required to lower
levels immediately after the new rule goes into effect. Instead, the
will take into consideration the levels of arsenic in the system. The
the concentration, the more quickly water systems must act, he said.
residents most affected by
the new standard are those who live on a water system used by more than
either 15 homes or 25 people. School and other non-transient
water systems day cares and schools are subject to the new
as Group “A” water systems,
these systems fall under the federal government’s guidelines, with
authority granted to the state. The state adopted the rule on Jan. 14.
unclear are what standards will
apply to water systems used by communities with less than 15 homes,
Group “B” water systems, and individual wells. Island County’s Sherman
said the state Board of Health is still deciding if the 10 ppb level
apply to the Group B water systems.
wanting to wait until 2006 to
lower arsenic, some Whidbey Island communities are already tackling the
problem, hiring water system managers.
to water system managers
Campbell and Desty, the best option to meet the upcoming arsenic
is a filtration system. Campbell said several filtration systems have
been installed around South Whidbey, including one on a well near
Beach, Campbell said.
said the filtration machine
begins to work when arsenic-tainted water reaches the filtration
contact tank. At that point, a chemical reaction enlarges the arsenic
A filter then removes the particles.
is the most expensive option,
but also appears to be the most reliable, Campbell said.
Beaches monitored for
South Whidbey RECORD
By GAYLE SARAN
May 18 2005
swimming means more than knowing
how or where to swim. It also means making sure the water won’t make
sick. That’s why the Island County Health Department will be testing
for bacteria at five popular beaches beginning this month.
the BEACH program, it is funded
by the state departments of Ecology and Health.
Parvin, environmental specialist
for the county health department said the BEACH program is for marine
only. Fresh water lakes are monitored under a separate program.
County received $12,000 from
the state to fund this year’s program at five popular marine parks from
May 31 through Sept. 16. One-half of the funds will be used for
five county beaches slated for
weekly monitoring are Dave Mackie in Clinton, Freeland Park on Holmes
Oak Harbor City Park and Lagoon and Cavalero beach on the east side of
said the beaches were selected
based on popularity.
quality will be monitored for
an indicator organism call enterococci.
bacteria is an indicator for
the risk of getting a gastrointestinal or upper respiratory illness
swimming in marine waters,” Parvin said.
can come from sewage treatment
plant problems, boating waste, malfunctioning septic systems and animal
County has participated in
the program since it began in 2003 and health officials say since the
of the BEACHES program, Island County beaches tested have met water
same five parks and Fort Ebey
were monitored through the program in 2004.
Ebey is not on this year’s
list because of its excellent water quality,” Parvin said.
are more beaches along the
212 miles of shoreline on Whidbey and Camano that Parvin would like to
there isn’t funding
to check more areas,” she said. “We can only do so many.”
state has over 3,500 miles
of coastal waters with 900 public recreational beaches. Seventy-two
identified this year as priority beaches for monitoring. These were
based on the number of people swimming, scubas diving, surfing or
State hands county major victory
in fight over farming rules
By BRIAN KELLY
Sep 02 2006
In a lopsided victory for Island County, a state growth board said this
week that the county’s new rules for farming will protect both farmers
and the islands’ streams and wetlands. The landmark decision ends
dispute between the county and the Whidbey Environmental Action Network
that stretches back to 1998.
WEAN has fought the county’s rules for farming near “critical areas” —
environmentally sensitive areas with wetlands and streams — because the
activist group believes the county’s regulations aren’t tough
Unlike previous growth board and court rulings that resulted in split
decisions, the Wednesday decision was a one-sided win for county
County officials called it “unprecedented.”
“I was thrilled,” said County Commissioner Mike Shelton. “This had been
going on since 1998. Here we are eight years later and we finally got a
decision that we believe the people of Island County, specifically the
agriculture people ... can live with,” he said.
“My hope is that they will continue to do their agriculture practices,
and I think that’s critical to maintaining the rural character of
Island County,” Shelton said.
In its decision, the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings
Board heaped praise on the county’s new farming rules.
“Island County has achieved compliance in an impressive way that could
be a model for other jurisdictions,” the board said in its
County commissioners unanimously adopted new farming rules to regulate
existing farms in May. The rules require farmers to apply “best
management practices,” called BMPs, to their agriculture operations or
complete custom farm plans that detail how they will manage their farms
in earth-friendly ways.
WEAN spokesman Steve Erickson called parts of the growth board’s
22-page decision inaccurate. But he stopped short of saying the group
would fight the ruling. WEAN can ask the hearings board to
its decision, or WEAN can appeal it to Superior Court.
“We’re evaluating this decision and we’ll be deciding whether or not
we’ll appeal,” Erickson said. “We need to talk that over between the
people involved in WEAN, and various people in the community.”
“It’s not a trivial decision, it’s also real expensive,” he said,
adding that a challenge that would go all the way to the Court of
Appeals could cost between $30,000 and $50,000. WEAN has
criticized the new farming rules, which were highly controversial with
farmers, as well. The rules led to the biggest public hearings in
Island County history and attracted crowds numbering in the hundreds.
Many farmers said the rules were excessive and would drive them out of
WEAN, however, said the rules did not go far enough. The activist group
claimed that existing and ongoing agriculture operations is hurting
environmentally sensitive lands, and polluting streams and groundwater.
WEAN also said the county’s plan to protect critical areas focused too
much on water quality, and was too reactive, because nothing would
happen until state water quality standards are violated. The
complained that no one would be able to know if farmers were following
the new rules, because farm plans will be kept secret from the county
WEAN also said the regulations were not based on “best available
science,” which the state requires as the basis for creating critical
The growth board, however, lauded the new rules.
“Island County has done a thorough analysis of its local circumstances
and (has) come up with an admirable commitment to preserving its rural
character while protecting the functions and values of critical
areas...The involvement of landowners is one of the many strengths of
the county’s program, since it makes the consideration of the
protection of critical areas an everyday part of agricultural
practices,” the decision said.
“The county’s involvement in every step of the process — from gathering
questionnaires to working with the Conservation District on farm plans,
to investigation of complaints, to monitoring of water quality, to
prompt adaptive management of ineffective BMPs — represents an active
engagement in the protection of critical areas,” the growth board
“The growth board unanimously ruled in favor of the county on every
single point - every single point,” said Phil Bakke, Island County’s
“I think this is a community victory, whether you own agricultural land
or a home next to the golf course,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if
you’re a farmer or a homeowner on a little lot, it goes a long ways to
protect rural character.”
Even so, the new rules are not popular with farmers who already feel
“One of the things that I’ve always been concerned about is even though
the county has won this, this puts a significant burden on farmers,”
Shelton said. It won’t be business as usual for farmers, he
Farmers will be need to fill out a questionnaire, and some will be
required to complete custom farm plans.
“I just hope that farmers will do that rather than saying ‘This is too
much trouble, I’m just going to bag the whole thing and forget about
agriculture,’” Shelton said.
Farmers who don’t complete the questionnaires will lose their ability
to farm by using only BMPs, and will be forced to abide by even more
restrictive critical areas regulations. Erickson, of WEAN, was
skeptical that the new rules will work.
“Overall, our expectation is that water quality is going to be impacted
and is going to continue to deteriorate because this ordinance is not
going to do the job,” Erickson said.
Editorial: Growth should pay its way
Oct 11 2006
Island County will grow by 8,000 people every five years from now
So says the state Office of Financial Management, which came up with a
20-year population projection of 110,050 people by 2025, up more than
42 percent from the present population.
What the office doesn’t say is where to put all these people and how to
provide them with the resources they need.
It’s easy to draw larger growth boundaries around Whidbey Island’s
three incorporated towns, and easy to persuade builders to construct
homes for all these newcomers. The island life, after all, is appealing
to millions of well-heeled citizens sweltering in the southwest sun or
freezing in the northeast winters. And home prices here aren’t bad
compared to there.
But where do we get the resources to handle all these new people? Only
Oak Harbor has an outside water source, and that is limited by how much
Anacortes can sell us from the Skagit River. Elsewhere, the county is
entirely dependent on ground water.
With non-source pollution a problem, the county hardly needs thousands
of more septic systems. But existing sewer systems are centered in the
three towns and limited to how much growth they can handle. Who’s going
to pay for the major expansions needed to accommodate the increased
In Island County, growth has not been paying for itself. It might be
time to rethink the old idea of adopting impact fees for basic
necessities, like schools, roads, parks and sewer systems. Islanders
can’t afford to continue to pay for everyone else to move here.
Numbers don’t add up for opponents of
Freeland’s embattled sewer project
By ROY JACOBSON
South Whidbey Record Reporter
Apr 17 2011, 10:13 AM
Cost is the primary objection for opponents of a proposed $40 million
sewer system for Freeland, but no one appears to know what the real
costs would be.
“This ship is dead in the water,” said property owner Lou Malzone,
who’s against the sewer plan as it currently stands.
“Unless some agency comes up with a ton of money that isn’t there, this
isn’t going to happen,” Malzone said Thursday.
At least one party may have a closer handle on what the costs to
property owners would be as things now stand for the sewer proposal
that has been in the works for years — Macaulay & Associates of
The consulting firm, hired by the Freeland Water and Sewer District,
conducted a special assessment of the 471 commercial and residential
parcels that would be included if a local improvement district (LID)
were to be formed. Gary Hess, district engineer, said Macaulay
determined that the properties would only support an LID of about $22
million, while the district was proposing an LID of about $34 million.
The appraiser was hired to calculate the assessments that property
owners would pay — based on factor such as parcel size, zoning,
existing improvements, and the “highest and best use” of the parcel —
but said the decline in property values and other factors made
financing for the project unreachable. The news,
conveyed to commissioners verbally, was the main reason the sewer
project was put on indefinite hold this past week, Hess said.
“Where’s the Macaulay report?” Malzone asked, insisting that it must
contain detailed cost estimates for each parcel in the project. “That’s
what everybody wants to know.”
Hess said he hasn’t received the consultant’s written report, and that
he didn’t know if the district will ask for it anytime soon, given that
the proposed LID formation has been postponed.
“That’s up to the commissioners,” he said.
Commissioner Jim Short said Friday the board would take up the question
of the Macaulay report at its next workshop, scheduled for Monday,
April 25 at the Freeland Library.
“It’s not finished as I understand it,” Short said of the report. “We
can probably get it in draft form, but I doubt it would be complete
enough to send out to the constituents, although I could be wrong.”
Meanwhile, ballpark figures for the project compiled by another
consultant were released earlier by the district, and they too have
raised the hackles of opponents. That report was issued by Katy
Isaksen & Associates, a Seattle-based consulting firm that
specializes in financial planning for sewers and other utility
projects. It says the new sewer system would cost a total of
$39.9 million if no additional grants are obtained, or $37.8 million if
the district gets a $10 million grant to help pay for the design and
construction of the system.
Hess said the district has applied for a number of grants that would
fulfill the $10 million goal, but that none have been promised to the
district so far.
“It would obviously be better if we got more,” he said.
The difference in total costs listed in the report is due to the
difference in financing costs; estimated financing costs are $5.4
million if no additional grants are obtained, or $3.3 million if $10
million in grants come through. District officials say there is
$5.5 million in grant funding “in hand,” and the number represents a $1
million grant from the Centennial Clean Water Fund and $4.5 million
from Island County funding for rural development.
The Centennial Clean Water Fund grant was used for the district’s land
purchase for the system. Of the $4.5 million in county money,
approximately $2.5 million was budgeted for planning and engineering,
while a $100,000 annual grant would be used to make payments on the
debt for 20 years.
Isaksen’s report said property owners would need to help cover $29.5
million in costs if no other grants are received, or $17.4 million if
the district gets the sought-after $10 million. If no other
grants are received, a property that has the equivalent of one
residential home (or ERU, for equivalent residential unit), would pay
$19,100 in assessments for the new sewer system.
But that’s just the start. Property owners would also have to pay to
hook up to the system. An owner of an existing home would be
expected to pay an additional $10,500 (bringing the total cost to
$29,600). Those costs would cover installation costs for a new septic
tank, pumping system, electrical connection, a service line to connect
to a sewer main and restoration costs. An owner of a new home
would pay an additional $6,600 (total cost, $25,700). The estimate does
not include the costs of landscaping and restoration after the sewer
hook-up is installed.
Owners of commercial properties would pay more than residential
property owners. Current estimates for what commercial properties
would pay is based on how much water would be used, based on the number
of ERUs assigned to the property. One ERU equals 563 cubic feet
(roughly 4,211 gallons) a month.
The connection costs for the average “small” commercial property are
estimated at $11,400, and $12,400 for the average “large” commercial
property. Property owners would also have a monthly sewer bill
after the system is installed. A typical residential homeowner would
face a $64 bill each month. Hook-up costs would be lower for
residential and commercial property owners if more grant funding is
obtained by the district.
Under the scenario where the district gets $10 million in grants, the
owner of a property with one home would pay $11,300 in assessments.
When added to the hook-up costs, that bill would rise to $21,800 for
the owner of an existing home. New homeowners would pay $11,300, which
would rise to $17,900 when connection costs are included.
District officials note that the actual charges would be different, and
would be based on a “special benefit analysis” that would detail the
assessment that each property owner would pay. Those cost
estimates, however, would not be the bill that property owners actually
pay. The final assessments on properties would be determined after the
LID is formed, so the numbers could go up or down.
“The whole thing has to be reexamined,” Malzone said. “We need
something on a smaller scale, with more rational staging.”
He and other critics have urged the district to form a citizens
advisory committee to work with commissioners in the next year to
devise a more workable plan. Opponents also have recommended that the
district commission be increased from three to five members.
Short called and advisory committee “a good idea, as long as it’s clear
what its role would be.”
However it’s accomplished, the costs have to come down, Malzone said.
“Until we come up with reasonable costs, there will be opposition,” he
“There’s a lot more work to be done with the public and to reduce the
cost of the project,” Hess agreed. “But we need to focus on not going
into this prejudged.”
Environmental concerns sparked by Oak
Harbor sewer plant siting
By JUSTIN BURNETT
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
Apr 15 2011, 3:37 PM · UPDATED
It doesn’t have to smell like roses, but Oak Harbor’s new wastewater
treatment plant better not stink. It should also be environmentally
sensitive and built to last.
Those were the kinds of comments aired at a meeting at Skagit Valley
College Tuesday evening. Designed to garner input from the public about
where the new facility should be located, it was the second of three
such meetings the city has planned.
“It was a great response, a great turnout,” City Engineer Eric Johnston
said. “It was encouraging to have the pubic so engaged in the process.”
Oak Harbor’s existing facilities on the Seaplane Base and at Windjammer
Park are outdated and city officials hope to have a replacement
treatment plant built and in operation by 2017. The price tag for the
new facility is estimated at $70 million.
The five sites under consideration include Beachview Farm just outside
the city’s western boundaries, Windjammer Park, the Oak Harbor Marina,
the old city shops on SE Eighth Avenue, and vacant land on the Seaplane
Base on Crescent Harbor.
The city council is expected to make a final selection by fall or early
More than 50 people attended Tuesday’s meeting, not including city
staff and elected officials present. The crowd was briefed on each of
the five possible sites — how they were selected, the types of
technology that may be used, even what they may look like.
No one from the public said they specifically favored or disliked any
particular location, rather most questions focused on broader issues,
such as where the plant’s treated effluent might be released. Several
had concerns that Swan Lake or Puget Sound off West Beach Road are
Jerry Pitsch, a West Beach Road resident, said the area is critical for
salmon habitat restoration and he is worried about potential impacts
from even treated effluent.
According to Brian Matson of Carollo, the national engineering firm the
city hired to help select possible facility sites, neither location is
being seriously considered for discharge. The area off West Beach
contains shellfish tracts that could be adversely effected.
Others voiced similar concerns about potential discharge sites in
Crescent Harbor and Oak Harbor. Johnston said that Oak Harbor is the
strongest possibility of all the candidates for a variety of reasons.
It’s the most affordable option due to existing infrastructure, but it
also make the most sense environmentally.
Although he stressed that discharge from modern treatment plants is
extraordinarily clean, Oak Harbor bay’s proximity to the city will
likely keep it closed to shellfish harvesting while other areas remain
open. That could change, however, with the installation of a discharge
The smell of treatment plants was also addressed. Oak Harbor resident
Gregor Strohm asked if either of the two treatment technologies being
considered is better than the other because odor from the facility at
Windjammer Park is noticeable. Johnston said improvements in technology
and treatment make it a non-issue.
“Without saying the plant won’t smell, it won’t smell,” Johnston said.
Several others asked questions or spoke at the meeting, including
members of the Whidbey Environmental Action Network. In a later
interview, group member Marianne Edain said she was relieved to learn
that the West Beach outfall idea had been abandoned but was critical
about the types of technologies being considered.
Both types, membrane bioreactor and activated sludge, are older
technologies that are “on their way out,” she said. City officials
should be looking into sustainable facilities that are capable of
creating electricity or capturing methane gas, she said.
“They seem to have rejected that out of hand,” Edain said.
Johnston disagrees. Activated sludge is older technology, but is
entirely capable to meeting water quality standards over the next 20
years. As for membrane bioreactor, he said it was “cutting edge” and
widely considered the most advanced available today.
Also, both technologies are methods of treating waste and don’t
preclude the ability for sustainable practices. In fact, Johnston said
the city is considering adaptive reuse of wastewater for agricultural
use and methane capture, Johnson said.
“Our goal has been to have the most environmentally responsible project
we can,” he said.
The only reason such options haven’t been discussed yet is because it’s
still early in the process and city officials have been focused
primarily on selecting a location and nailing down the kind of
technology to be used.
Once that’s done, you can be sure such options will be discussed in
detail, he said.
By Jessie Stensland
Apr 21 2007
Many residents of the Dillard’s Addition, an Oak Harbor waterfront
neighborhood, were surprised when work crews started digging up their
They were even more shocked to learn that a unique type of sewer system
was being installed and that they would have to help pay for it, to the
tune of an estimated $15,000 to $20,000 for each household.
Several of the residents complained at the Oak Harbor City Council
meeting held Tuesday night.
“Being kept out of the loop has created a great deal of turmoil in my
neighborhood and has created a lot of distrust in the city of Oak
Harbor,” said Duane Dillard, a 40-year resident of the neighborhood,
which was named after his parents.
As Dillard explained, the residents aren’t just upset that they weren’t
notified about the project, but they don’t like the type of pressurized
sewer system that was chosen for them.
“We would have liked to have some input,” he said.
In an unusual response to public comments, City Administrator Paul
Schmidt defended the city staff, explaining that city code was
followed. He pointed out that staff held a special meeting for the
residents after they complained. But he hinted that the code may need
to be tweaked.
“That’s not to say this is a perfect system,” he said.
Councilman Larry Eaton pointed out that this wasn’t the first time that
residents have complained about a lack of communication coming from
city staff. Afterward, he said while he has great respect for the
dedicated staff, communication continues to be a problem — from
changing the zoning on car dealerships without letting them know to
simply not returning phone calls.
“Even if we had to hand carry the message to the public, we should have
done that,” Eaton said.
On March 6, the Oak Harbor City Council OK’d the preliminary approval
of a latecomer’s agreement submitted by Rob Anderson of the Granite
Park Holdings Company LLC. His company is constructing two houses in
the neighborhood and they need to connect to city sewers. He proposed
extending sewer lines to the entire subdivision and applying for a
latecomer’s agreement, under which residents would reimburse him for
the cost of the lines when they hook in.
City Attorney Phil Bleyhl said the neighborhood, which annexed into the
city in 1992, was supposed to be hooked into sewers soon thereafter
under the annexation agreement.
Bleyhl wrote the city code dealing with sewer construction and public
notice years ago. He admits that he only had gravity sewers in mind
when he wrote it, which are the typical system and are unlikely to
As Bleyhl explained it, the city isn’t required to tell the
neighborhood residents of the meeting for preliminary approval of the
latecomer’s agreement. He said most communities don’t even hold a
meeting for preliminary approval. But he said there’s nothing that
would have stopped the city from notifying residents as a courtesy,
though it was advertised in the News-Times.
Bleyhl said notice is required, however, for the more-significant
meeting for final approval of the latecomer’s agreement. At that
meeting, which will be held after construction is complete, the council
will decide whether to approve the latecomer’s agreement and if the
cost of building the system — a cost which will be passed on to the
residents — is reasonable.
Yet Dillard points out that now it’s too late for residents to have any
input into the system itself. He said that, with the unique type of
system, each residence will have to have its own pump and grinder. He
heard that the pumps have to be replaced after five years. The
homeowners will be left without sewage service when the power goes out,
unless they have individual generators.
Dillard said Anderson originally designed a regular gravity system, but
switched because it was too expensive.
“I would have rather had a simpler, hassle-free system,” Dillard said.
While Bleyhl said city code states that the 26 homes currently on
septic systems need to connect to the sewer system as soon as it’s
complete, he said the council could decide to give residents some
In response to the controversy, Councilman Paul Brewer made a motion to
set the issue on the agenda for the next council meeting, but the other
council members rejected the idea. Councilwoman Sue Karahalios
suggested a workshop.
unveils new wetlands regulations
Gayle Saran/Record file
By BRIAN KELLY
May 12 2007
For property owners who own land with wetlands, getting permits is
going to become a lot more complex. There will also be no easy
answers. And that’s a good thing, said Phil Bakke, director of
the Island County planning department.
The county has just finished revising rules that cover lands with
wetlands, the first major rewrite of the regulations in more than two
The revisions are necessary as the county updates its “critical areas
ordinance,” the set of rules that restrict development on properties
with environmentally sensitive features such as streams, wetlands and
“Of all the critical area components, wetlands is the most complicated
and controversial,” Bakke said.
Although Island County was the first in the state to adopt wetland
regulations in the early 1980s, little has been done to the rules since
“We’ve made very few changes since 1984,” Bakke said.
“The science has evolved tremendously since 1984. So what you have here
is basically a complete rewrite of the ordinance,” he said.
In the earlier set of rules, the no-go areas around wetlands called
“buffers” were based solely on the type of the wetland being regulated.
That will change.
Now, the county will categorize wetlands into four classes, and the
county will work with property owners to determine the size of buffers,
which will range from 20 feet to 300 feet based on a number of factors.
But Bakke said that means there will no longer be quick-and-easy
answers for property owners at the permit county.
The county learned its lesson during its rewrite of critical areas
rules for farmlands last year, which led to public meetings packed with
angry farmers and disappointed environmentalists and the resumption of
a lawsuit against the county over the regulations. Some thought the
farm rules were too restrictive, while others thought the regulations
were too lax.
“We really have taken from the ag experience in developing this
program,” Bakke said. “People wanted us to be catering our regulations
to what they have on site.”
For wetlands, the county will consider the type of wetland, the
vegetation found there, and the use of the land before applying a set
of rules to the property.
To assist property owners, the county has created a “welands
identification guide” to assist property owners. A brochure
explaining the changes to the program should also start landing in
mailboxes across Island County this weekend, Bakke said. A series
of public workshops on the new wetlands rules will also be held this
month and next.
County officials said property owners should bring their property tax
parcel number if they want to meet individually with a county planner
to learn how the new regulations may affect their land.
The schedule is:
Monday, May 21 (6 to 8 p.m.) at South Camano Grange Hall, 2221 S.
Camano Dr., Camano Island;
Wednesday, May 30 (6 to 8 p.m.) at the Race Road Fire Station, 1164
Race Road, south of Coupeville;
Thursday, May 31 (7 to 9 p.m.) at the Taylor Road Fire Station, 3440
Taylor Road, North Whidbey;
Saturday, June 2 (10 a.m. to noon) at Four Springs Lake Preserve, 585
Lewis Lane, Camano Island;
Wednesday, June 6 (6 to 8 p.m.) at the Race Road Fire Station;
Thursday, June 7 (6 to 8 p.m.) at Trinity Lutheran Church, 18341
Highway 525, Freeland.
The county planning commission is expected to review the rules in
September and November, with the new regulations eventually going
before the county commissioners for approval.
Information on the new rules, including the draft ordinance and studies
conducted in support of the regulations: http://www.islandcounty.net/planning/caupdates.htm
TIDAL LIFE: The
story on the water
NANCY BARTLETT, Columnist
Published: July 06, 2008 1:00 PM
Updated: July 06, 2008 1:20 PM
One day last August, after snorkeling off our Holmes Harbor beach, my
son stood dripping on the lawn.
“What happened to the eelgrass?” he said.
“What about it?”
“You’re kidding,” I said, thinking of the times I’d been tangled in the
“Nope, nothing but sand. I did see three kelp crabs. I’ve never seen
more than one before.”
“You’ve been honored.” These reclusive, long-limbed crabs are hard to
“Not really,” he said. “They were dead.”
A few days later my neighbor Gerry returned from kayaking saying he
could see nothing but sand on the bottom of the harbor. He, too, asked,
“What happened to the eelgrass?”
Knowing eelgrass was important, Gerry and I sought answers. He called
state agencies that monitor eelgrass meadows. I sent panicky notes to
scientists who study eelgrass, crabs and water quality.
My friend Sandy Wylie-Echeverria, of the University of Washington’s
Friday Harbor lab, told me loss of eelgrass has a cascading effect.
“When you lose eelgrass,” he said, “you lose structure in the water
In other words, there’s no place for little fish to hide and grow into
big fish. The sediment changes. Invertebrates, waterfowl and salmon all
Gerry and I jumped to conclusions. There must be one culprit, scofflaw
or evildoer to blame for the disappearance of eelgrass. We learned
instead that a major cause is all of us. The potential salvation is the
same, all of us. The reason we should care about eelgrass disappearing
— drum roll please — all of us.
And what are we all doing that can harm eelgrass and other sensitive
species? Nothing diabolical, just living our lives. Cleaning our roofs
with moss killers and letting the residue flow to the bay. Planting
roses, then treating them with spray that drifts over the bay. Dosing
hot tubs with chemicals, then draining them into ditches that lead to
the harbor. Cleaning up after our dogs and throwing their poop into the
bay. Taking our kids water skiing, then cleaning the boat with
detergents as it sits right on the waters of the bay.
For the privilege of living at the waterfront, we willingly pay a
But Gerry and I demonstrated something else we need: to pay attention.
We’re the front line, here to notice changes in the sea we look out on
every day. It’s not a bad job; we also enjoy front row seats on the
antics of the aquatic world. The seasons of marine life get ingrained
in us. We get up one morning thinking it’s been too long since we’ve
heard a loon, then a few days later wake to that haunting laugh.
On the flip side, we’re here year-in and year-out, witnessing reduced
numbers of scoters, realizing at the end of summer that no gray whales
have cruised by, watching the very reasons we came here disappearing.
We have great views, but one of the oh-so-lovely sights is the local
outfall that dumps tainted runoff onto the beach.
Our bluffs slough, algae blooms perfume the air and our shellfish are
inedible. Something is wrong, but we’re not sure what to do.
In the fight for Puget Sound, our worst enemy is our own innate desire
to do things the easiest, cheapest way. Another is the confusing array
of products and methods touted as “environmentally friendly.” No one
has time to sort it all out.
I’ve been dragging my feet about some house and garden projects because
I know my choices matter to the health of the Sound and I’m unsure
Other islanders are in the same boat. So, rather than grab the
quick-and-easy fix, I’m diving in to look for better methods and report
what I find. I’ll investigate such topics as bluffs, roof maintenance,
native plants, hot tubs, marine mammals, sea birds, cleaning products
and more on eelgrass.
On Whidbey no one lives far from the beach. Runoff makes its way from
every part of the island to the waters that cradle this exceptional
community. No matter where we live, we need to do things differently
now for the future of Puget Sound. We’re writing the next chapter in
the adventure of island life. Lets make it a blockbuster with thousands