King County has been awarded more than $800,000 to help property owners repair failing septic systems, keep livestock out of streams and address other pollution sources that could be affecting Puget Sound.
Larry Fay, manager of community environmental health in the county’s health department, said that $350,000 of the grant money will go toward developing a low-interest revolving loan fund for property owners in the marine recovery areas, six different stretches of waterfront where homeowners have been told to ensure their septic systems are in working order.
Interest rates will likely range from zero percent to market-based, with the possibility that some could get loans that won’t have to be repaid until the property is sold, he said.
“It’s exciting,” he said of the funds, which the county is receiving from the state Department of Health. “It’s not nearly enough. But it helps. … We’ve wanted to get (loan money) in place for a long time. It’s all positive. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Another $50,000 would go toward supporting homeowners in instituting best management practices for livestock.
And a third bucket of funds — around $400,000 — would be used to begin a pilot project in the Fisher Creek drainage, where the county would look for contaminants in the water, trace them to their source and try to take corrective action, Fay said.
“The idea is to take a small geographic area and get the kind of inter-agency teamwork to do this in an interdisciplinary way,” he said. “This gives us a focused area where we could have an immediate impact.”
The issue of public funds to help cover the high costs of septic repair and installation has been a sensitive one on Vashon. Leaders within the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council (VMICC) over the past year have been critical of the county, saying officials have not done nearly enough to support Islanders in making costly repairs.
They’ve held several meetings, including a few with county officials, where they’ve pressed their case and voiced their concerns.
Tim Johnson, president of the council’s board, said he was pleased to hear the county had secured some funds and said he believes VMICC’s efforts have made a difference.
“The pressure and publicity definitely had an effect,” he said.
But Fay said grant applications were in the works “long before all the noise started.” The grant was one the county attempted to secure a year ago, he said.
“I don’t think their intervention hurt. But it’s not as though we weren’t already talking to the state about a contract,” he said.
Meanwhile, the list of property owners who have yet to respond to the county in the marine recovery areas now numbers 19, down from 28 a month ago. Those 19 property owners are facing $25-a-day fines, although Fay said he’s still working to find a solution to each homeowner’s situation.
The state funds, he added, could be used to help some of the property owners who have yet to respond, those who are in the process of repairing their systems or new efforts the county plans to institute to address failing septics and Puget Sound’s health.
“This is only the beginning,” he said.