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"What price growth...?"

Sims wants 3rd sewage plant

New facility would top $1 billion and raise rates - but will be needed in long run, King County exec says

Leslie Brown; The News Tribune

Calling it an investment in the future, King County Executive Ron Sims said he will push for a third sewage treatment plant, a project that will cost more than $1 billion over the next 12 years.

The plant would be built somewhere in north King County or possibly south Snohomish County, where the region is facing the most growth pressure, Sims told reporters and regional officials at a news conference Monday. No specific sites have been identified.

The cost of building a new plant will raise monthly sewage rates from an average of $19.10 per single-family household to, in 1998 dollars, $21.50 per household for the next 12 years. After that, rates will fall because some current debt the county is now carrying will retire in 2015.

Sims said he was endorsing a new plant rather than another idea some have advanced - expanding the county's two existing treatment plants - because he considers a new plant fairer. The plants in Renton and Seattle's Discovery Park have already borne the burden of treating the region's wastewater for many years, he noted.

What's more, he said, expanding those two plants won't solve the problem. Eventually, he said, the region will need a third plant.

"The longer we wait, the more expensive and difficult it will get," Sims said.

Sims used Lake Washington as an emotional and evocative backdrop. The news conference was held on the shores of the lake, once so polluted it was frequently closed to swimmers in the summer. It was a campaign to clean up Lake Washington that ultimately led to creation of the county's first sewage treatment efforts.

"Lake Washington is now one of the cleanest urban lakes in the world," Sims told a crowd of onlookers and reporters, standing in the morning sunshine as mallards and an occasional boat glided by.

"The investment we're making is an investment in clean water, in safe water," he said.

But it's not clear if Sims will have the support he needs on the Republican-dominated County Council.

Councilman Rob McKenna (R-Bellevue) said Sims' plan would cost $300 million more than expanding the plants in Renton and Seattle. McKenna agreed the county will eventually need a third plant. The question, he said, is whether it makes sense to make such a huge investment now.

But McKenna, whose district includes Renton, said he's also sympathetic to residents who do not want to see the local treatment plant significantly expanded.

"It's not cheaper," he said of Sims' plan to build a third plant. "But there may be good policy reasons to do it anyway."

King County's sewage treatment system serves 1.3 million residents in King and south Snohomish County. About 80 percent of King County residents are served by the county's system; Federal Way has a separate sewage treatment system.

At the current rate, King County's wastewater treatment system will be at capacity in 12 years, Sims said.

The new plant will also provide the county's first serious effort at water recycling. Rather than dump the treated sewage into Puget Sound or Lake Washington, the new plant will send it back out to the community, where people will be able to use it to water their lawns or wash their cars.

Not recycling water, Sims said, is "a colossal waste of a limited resource."

The new plant will require 50 acres of land. Sims said he plans to put together a site-selection committee that will come up with a list of possible locations. It will likely take five years to locate the site and do all the environmental reviews and another five to seven years to build, he said.

The News Tribune

April 28, 1998

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