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Concerns about pipe extension brought forward at Vader workshop

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Christopher Kelsey (background, left), a principal engineer with BHC Consultants, speaks with residents during a workshop in Vader Feb. 6 detailing the city's plans for an upgrade to their aging sewer system.

The potential environmental effects of an upgrade to Vader's wastewater treatment system were foremost among the concerns raised by residents during a workshop at City Hall on Friday.

Residents were given an opportunity to speak with engineers and state officials regarding what an upgraded system would mean for Vader, with a majority of questions revolving around a plan to extend the sewer plant's outfall pipe across Westside Hwy. and into the Cowlitz River, rather than its current outfall at Olequa Creek.

According to Christopher Kelsey, principal engineer with BHC Consultants, the firm hired by Vader to design the potential upgrade, discharge standards for a body of water are calculated using their lowest flow periods and, given how much larger and swifter the Cowlitz River is, discharge standards there would be easier and cheaper to meet than continuing to discharge into Olequa Creek.

"Because Olequa Creek, at the end of summer, has really just a trickle of flow, we are forced into trying to treat to very fine levels, which is very costly," said Kelsey of the current system, stating the standards placed by the Department of Ecology (DOE) on Olequa Creek are some of the strictest he has seen in the state.

If the city were to discharge instead to the Cowlitz River, explained Kelsey, they would avoid having to pay more than $1 million simply in filtration improvements to the plant, but have to build around a mile of pipe from the plant's current location to a yet-to-be selected area of the Cowlitz River, likely east of Westside Hwy. and just south of SR 506. Many property owners potentially impacted by the pipe extension were at the workshop to express what they felt were serious risks posed to their properties.

Resident Dave Weston said, as someone who has lived along the river for a number of years, he knows of recurring landslides at the potential outfall location, and said he is concerned current projections for the cost to build the pipeline do not account for the cost of mitigating the landslides.

Kelsey conceded his firm does not yet know specifics about the stability of the riverbank, but said it is their intention to have a geo-technical engineer perform an evaluation during the next phase of the project as plans for the outfall are finalized.

With regard to cost estimates before the city (current plans to improve the plant and extend the outfall are roughly $4.8 million), Kelsey said these estimates include a contingency of around 30 percent to account for costs unknown at this time, and even with different factors potentially increasing the price of an upgrade, he believes the improved plant option will remain the cheapest alternative for the city, compared to the next best option of improving discharges into Olequa Creek at nearly $6 million.

Resident Phil Shanteau also asked, if the concentration of pollutants discharged into Olequa Creek has become a problem, couldn't the city build a pipe diverting water from the Cowlitz River into the plant to dilute its discharge, rather than purchase a more advanced discharge system or change its outflow to the Cowlitz River.

Al Bolinger, an environmental engineer with DOE, said he is not familiar with other cities using such strategies to comply with discharge standards and, after considering the idea, said he does not believe diluting the receiving water would be allowed under the Clean Water Act.

Multiple property owners also expressed concerns as far as how the city was planning to acquire easements to build the new outflow pipe, with Kelsey stating a majority of the pipe is intended to be built along public rights of way until it nears the river, at which time the city would need to purchase easements from the associated property owners.

Kelsey said those affected by a potential easement purchase would be part of future meetings with BHC Consultants to find a solution that would "work for everyone," adding biologists and geo-technical engineers will be brought in during that process for initial evaluations of potential sites, but said specific evaluations will not possible until the location of the pipe is finalized.

Kelsey said finalization of the pipe location is the next step for the city before more studies and engineering can be performed to prepare for construction, stating his firm will soon be asking city officials to approve an amended contract to include such work.

According to current projections, a final plan for the system upgrade will be considered by the City Council this spring, allowing the city to apply for funding during the remainder of this year and possibly begin construction by next year.

After hearing feedback from residents, Cathi Read, of the Department of Commerce, added she would want to make sure residents of Enchanted Valley, a neighborhood within Vader's eastern Urban Growth Area, understand these improvements to the sewer system would not require them to hook in to the system, as they may continue depending on private septic tanks as long as those tanks remain usable.

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