What does a small rural waterfront community do when its half-century-old wastewater treatment plant is aging out? Members of the Taylor Bay Beach Club know from experience — take a deep breath and prepare to spend the next five years working with multiple agencies and consultants to assess the system, evaluate alternatives, and find millions of dollars in funding.
In January, TBBC received a $1 million grant from the Washington State Department of Health to continue the necessary planning and permitting that will move them closer to a new treatment plant.
“You like when you hit that silver handle that it goes down the hole and you don’t have to think about it,” Doug Snyder, president of the Taylor Bay Beach Club homeowners association said. He has been involved in the renewal project for the last two years.
“Our goal is to put out the cleanest water into Puget Sound that we can,” he said. “There is a lot of red tape, but we are shovel-ready, and we will be proud once it is built.”
The modest TBBC community was established in the 1960s. The population fluctuates, with about 80 lots occupied by 150 residents in the winter months and 110 lots with 270 residents in the summer. It has its own water system: a single well with an 80,000-gallon tank. Every home connects to its sewer system and treatment plant, which was completed in 1971.
In 2018, the Washington State Department of Ecology notified TBBC that although the outflow from their system met general requirements set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Act, it did not meet the stricter standard of the National Shellfish Sanitation Program. The system was out of compliance and responsible for the closure of a nearby geoduck fishery managed by the state and local tribes.
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources funded a feasibility study to evaluate the existing system and to recommend alternatives to upgrade or replace it.
The report concluded that the system was working better than might be expected, but after 50 years it had reached the end of its expected lifespan. Having homeowners install their own onsite septic systems was not possible given the small size of the lots, nor was collecting and hauling waste. The system should be replaced.
It turns out that replacing a treatment plant on a site close to a shore where shellfish can be harvested is not a simple affair.
There were issues to address. Where could the facility be located? How should the sewage be treated? Where would the treated effluent go? Were there risks to flora and fauna? Would it add to the risk of landslides? How much would the project cost? How could it be financed?
TBBC hired Gray and Osborne, a Seattle-based engineering company, to manage the project.
The new plant will be located slightly farther away from the shoreline to meet Pierce County requirements. It will use a membrane bioreactor to treat the wastewater and an ultraviolet disinfection system. Over 1,000 feet of concrete collection lines will be replaced.
Gray and Osborne explored piping the treated effluent to a large offsite septic system, but no appropriate land was available. The pipe from the treatment plant will still go to Taylor Bay but will end farther and deeper than the current system to ensure a healthy ecosystem for shellfish. Technology will allow the system to be monitored offsite; currently, there is a manager onsite five days a week.
An environmental report confirmed the plan complied with the National Environmental Policy Act requirements. Those requirements include considering the impact on geological hazards, wildlife, air and water quality, noise and appearance.
Members of TBBC agreed to limit the size of the community to ensure that use won’t exceed system capacity.
They hope to get funding soon from the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development, a combination of a grant and a 40-year low-interest loan to cover the now $11 million price tag.
Although the project is a high priority — there is a need, the project is ready, and the community has already been working with the USDA for several years — funding is not guaranteed.
“The biggest question at this time is whether Congress will appropriate a large enough budget this year for USDA to fund all their projects,” said Peter Burgoon, senior project manager of Gray and Osborne. TBBC is working on contingencies if full funding does not come in one package.
But if all goes according to plan the new treatment plant will be completed in 2026.
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS