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"What price growth...?"

LOTT looks to hike fees to pay for sewer plan

EXPANSION: LOTT officials say the jump in hookup fees would make growth pay for itself.

By John Dodge, The Olympian

OLYMPIA -- Sewer hookup fees would soar under a proposed plan to pay for expansion of the LOTT sewer system.

At the same time, the 65,000 current customers of the Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater and Thurston County (LOTT) sewer partners would face a modest boost in monthly sewer rates.

Although the financing scheme is still preliminary; it suggests that city and county elected officials are about to take a serious step toward making growth pay for growth in the sewer arena.

The three cities and county will kick start a public discussion of how to pay for the 20-year; $191 million wastewater plan for urban Thurston County at a public meeting Wednesday at the state Department of Ecology head-quarters in Lacey

Under one proposal being considered, the LOTT sewer hookup fee would jump to $3,283 from the current $818. The current fee already automatically increases $4 each month.

But each city also has its own sewer hookup fee separate from LOTT's, ranging from $1,272 in Lacey to $1,836 in Tumwater. That means sewer hookup fees could total between $4,500 and $5,000, among the highest in the state.

If adopted, the roughly 70,000 new sewer customers expected by 2020 would pay 72 percent, or $132 million, of the sewer expansion costs.

The proposed price hike for sewer service connections is causing local builders and developers some anxiety.

"We have serious concerns with that steep of a jump," said David

Schaffert, government affairs director for the Olympia Master Builders. The organization represents about 475 homebuilders and businesses in South Sound. Schaffert said such high fees could stifle the construction of lower-priced, or "affordable," housing.

By boosting sewer hookup fees, ratepayers get a break, paying for only sewer system improvements necessary whether the system grows or not, said LOTT project administrator Mike Sharar

It's possible that LOTT could move forward with its plan with no more than a $3.24 boost in monthly -


AT A GLANCE

To learn more

The LOTT sewer partners are ready to explain options for financing their 20-year sewer plan.

Possible increases in sewer rates and hookup fees will be discussed at a public meeting Wednesday at the state Department of Ecology headquarters, 300 Desmond Drive, Lacey.

An open house hosted by the Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater and Thurston County (LOTT) sewer partners begins at 6 p.m. with a public workshop following at 7 p.m.


sewer fees, which are currently $21 a month. "It's a victory for equity and for making growth pay for growth," said Olympia community activist Jerry Parker of the proposed funding plan. "I think it sounds fabulous."

As recently as three years ago, LOTT officials were talking about doubling or tripling sewer rates to pay for a big, new sewage treatment plant to discharge treated waste-water to marine waters east of Lacey

Instead, the new preferred plan calls for LOTT to expand the sewer system only as new growth occurs by building small, wastewater reclamation plants in areas where irrigation needs are high and groundwater replenishment is possible.

John Dodge covers the environment for The Olympian. He can be reached at 754-5444.


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