Spill moves negotiations back to square one

POULSBO — A recent sewage spill into Liberty Bay had the Lemolo Citizens Club meeting with city and county representatives this week to try and flush out a better plan.

The group, representing about 90 families in Lemolo, had been meeting with county officials recently to hammer out a sewage pipe deal. A pipe transferring Poulsbo and Lemolo area sewage crosses under Liberty Bay at Lemolo and connects with Keyport. Citizens have long argued that this pipe was a ticking time bomb and opposed adding a second line under the bay.

Most recently the group had appealed the Environmental Impact Statement under which the county’s Lemolo pipe was approved. The suit was later dropped in favor of trying to work out a compromise with the county.

Then there was the sewage spill.

“We have been working actively for about a year and a half now and we had reached some agreements, then the spill happened and that caused us to rethink some of our concerns,” Lemolo Citizens Club President Richard Best explained. “One of the things we find frustrating was one of the reasons we appealed your EIS was that we did not think your emergency spill response was adequate.”

“The last time we met with the two of you we basically agreed to do some things and then put them in writing but when the spill occurred our constituencies rounded us up and we’ve been strongly urged not to participate in any way and hold out for what was agreed to before,” club member Paul Deitz added.

On Sept. 16, during a routine test at Kitsap County’s Brownsville sewage station, a coupling failed, causing a pipe to separate.

Rick Gagnon of the Kitsap County Public Works Department said his crews tried to contain the spilled effluent by using pumper trucks and some extra capacity at Keyport and Bangor, but eventually the system was overwhelmed.

“Unfortunately we can’t keep up with that kind of flow so we had to make a decision on what to do,” Gagnon said.

“It was starting to fill up the dry well, which is where all the electrical equipment is. If is had gotten to that, that station would have gone down for days rather than hours,” Poulsbo Public Works Superintendent Bill Duffy added.

Gagnon added that he does not yet know whether the break was due to a material failure or a mechanical failure and will likely not know until a permanent fix is completed.

About 330,000 gallons of sewage were spilled into Liberty and Ne-si-ka Bays. Gagnon said it was not his first choice to do so, but at the time it was the only choice.

“We could have let it all go at Keyport, we let 20,000 gallons go there, but it would have taken out the road and that would have hampered our action,” he explained.

“If Poulsbo actually gets a second line in we’ll have some capacity to store but right now our pipe is full,” Duffy added.

While they agreed that under the circumstances, county crews made the right decision, Lemolo Citizen Club members said they felt there were some mistakes made. County Commissioner Chris Endresen agreed.

“To say we’re sorry is an understatement,” Endresen commented. “A sewer spill like this is something nobody wants to see it’s just devastating. We had to release sewage in the bay, it’s unfortunate and it’s a mechanical failure but we should have a better plan in place to deal with those issues. I think there have been some good points brought up about how we can deal with this. I know we can do better.”

Besides the issue of dealing with sewage, concerns were also raised about public notification about the incident. The spill happened late enough Thursday night that it did not make any newspapers until Saturday. By then, a no-contact order had been in place in both bays for a day.

“There were not a lot of signs posted so that as many people were aware as possible that it was harmful for them to be in contact with the water,” Poulsbo City Councilwoman Jackie Aitchison commented.

“If you drove from Brower Point to the Marina in Lemolo there were no signs. You were much more liable to know there was a $1,000 reward being offered for a missing cat,” Luis Barrantes added.

Both sides concluded, however, that they still wanted to find a way to move forward. Future meetings between the two sides will be scheduled in November. Best said in the meantime, he would be conferring with his constituents.

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