Islanders vet Vashon’s sewer district and town plan boundaries

Around 25 Islanders gathered at McMurray Middle School last Wednesday to discuss a messy topic: sewers. And if any conclusion could be taken from the debate, it was that the issues surrounding Vashon Sewer District commissioner Ed Murphy’s efforts to restore the sewer district’s former boundaries run deeper than the pipes themselves.

The situation in question stems from the 1996 Town Plan, which established town boundaries that in turn shrank the sewer district by several square miles. Now, some Islanders who were ousted from the sewer district are faced with failing septic systems and the inability to hook into sewer lines that in some cases run right past their homes. Others own properties bisected by the new boundary, raising even more questions about their access to sewers.

Murphy brought his motions, supported by the other two members of the sewer district, to the Vashon-Maury Island Com-munity Council in an effort to influence the shape of the town plan, currently under discussion by the council’s Town Plan Committee. His motions would do two things: One would require the town boundary to expand to take in the 16 or so properties that are currently bisected by the boundary. The other would allow those who own property in the original sewer district to hook up to the sewer system if their septic systems are failing. About 60 parcels are within the swath, which extends from Cove Road north to S.W. 160th Street.

The motions were defeated by the Town Plan Committee in April and went before the entire community council at the request of Jean Bosch, who chairs the council. However, on May 17 council members chose to postpone a vote on the controversial proposals until the matter could be further fleshed out at Wednesday’s sewer forum, which gave community members and those affected by the boundaries a chance to speak out on the matter.

In his opening statement, Murphy said failing septic systems pose a health risk to the Island, polluting groundwater and ultimately the drinking water. His motions were not to expand the sewer district, he stressed, but to restore it to what it was from 1947 until 1996.

“My opinion is that property owners should be allowed the opportunity to connect to the sewer district’s system where practical for both convenience and improved water quality for us all,” he said.

Town Plan Committee member Jay Becker, however, said the community should stand by the boundaries he and others helped establish when they crafted the town plan more than a decade ago and saw no need to restore the sewer district. To do so, he argued, could invite greater growth to an area that is already hard-pressed for resources and could diminish the town’s rural feel.

“It has been clearly demonstrated over the years that we want a small, compact town. … One thing that was clear to the Town Plan Committee was that when you have sewers you have development,” he said.

Becker emphasized that Islanders in fact have up to nine different options for replacing their septic systems, some costing as little as $2,000.

However, many in the room argued that a new system can cost upwards of $50,000, and community council executive board member Kari Ulatoski expressed concern for those facing such a bill.

“Part of me wants to be the good neighbor,” she said. “These are people that we know, see every day and contribute to the community.”

In addition, Ulatoski suggested that growth on the Island isn’t necessarily negative and could even provide the opportunity for more affordable housing to be built. “I already feel like a gated community,” she said. “It would be nice to create some economic diversity.”

But Islander Bob Powell said that allowing even a little growth for the sake of sewers could have future implications that Vashon residents will regret.

“I think the 1996 Town Plan is by far the greenest, most sustainability-minded thing Vashon has done,” he said. “Extending the boundary would be counter-productive. … There are many tip of the icebergs and slippery slopes that we are touching on.”

Christie True, director of King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division, was on hand at the forum to answer Islanders’ technical questions about the Vashon Sewer District. She assured those who questioned the sewage treatment plant’s capacity for growth that while the current plant could handle the addition of only 250 more single-family residences, it will always grow to meet the demands of the district, whatever those may be.

“(The boundaries) might change,” she said. “As soon as they do, we’re required to meet that change.”

The community council will vote on the two motions — which will ultimately go to the King County Council for a final decision — on July 19. Any Vashon resident 18 and older will have the opportunity to vote.

Community council executive board member Chris Beck, who helped to moderate the forum, said she hopes for a large showing at the council meeting.

“I would dislike to see it passed unless there was significant community representation,” she said.

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