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"What price growth...?"

Newcomers likely will bear brunt of LOTT growth

HEARING: Plans depend on whether LOTT will be able to increase discharge into Budd Inlet.

By Larry Miller, The Olympian

LACEY -- LOTT officials and consultants were faced by skeptics Wednesday night as they presented ideas for handling 70,000 new sewer customers expected to move into Thurston County by 2020.

Whether the Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater and Thurston County (LOTT) sewer partners build one big, "traditional" treatment plant or a handful of small waste-water reclamation plants, current ratepayers will bear some of the cost of growth.

But new customers will likely pay most of the cost, officials said during the informational hearing.

LOTT municipalities most likely will choose the smaller plants in what consultants call the "highly managed" option, predicted Lacey City Councilman Jon Halvorson, Lacey's representative to LOTT

That option gives LOTT the flexibility to grow as much or as little as population growth dictates, minimizing the risk of building too much or too little capacity, said Mark Gardiner; LOTT's chief financial consultant.

It would cost ratepayers an extra $3.08 a month and hookup fees would increase by about $2,332, according to LOTT estimates revised this week.

But that carries assumptions. that population growth projections for Thurston County are on the mark; that the Washington Department of Ecology allows LOTT to discharge more treated waste into Budd Inlet; and that new customers will pay 70 percent of the cost of added capacity.

Without permission to increase the discharge, LOTT projects the monthly rate increase would be $3.83 and the hookup fee would go up by $2,911.

Saying he'd be willing to pay more to prevent the pumping of additional treated waste into Budd Inlet, Tom Gries of Olympia criticized LOTT officials for apparently leaning toward increasing discharges.

But he commended LOTT for involving the public in its decision-making process.

"I certainly applaud LOTT for listening to us," he said.

Others wondered why newcomers shouldn't pay the entire cost of the sewer improvements needed to accommodate them.

One problem with that approach, Gardiner said, is that it could price potential new homeowners out of the Thurston County housing market -- cutting LOTT revenue in the process.

LOTT will hold at least two more public hearings, and its member municipalities should decide by the end of this year how to expand the system, LOTT administrator Mike Sharar said.

Larry Miller covers Lacey for The Olympian. He can be reached at 754-5465

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Updated 2007/01/26 19:18:12

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