The City of Rainier has been considering the possible installation of a downtown wastewater system for more than two decades.
So where are they at in the process?
That’s a tough question to answer. While the city might not see the arrival of a new system in the next 10 years, city staff and council members have made incremental and important steps toward the future project.
The next steps for the city’s planned $17 million downtown septic system is to begin the process of drilling and testing wells to begin construction of a sewer processing plant.
The drilling would cost the city about $45,000, City Administrator Charmayne Garrison said.
The city currently has about $68,000 of reserves in the sewer fund to cover drill testing. That’s up from around $48,000 nearly five years ago, as the fund doesn’t produce much revenue, a previous report from the Nisqually Valley News stated.
City of Rainier Engineer Jon Hinton, who is contracted through Gray and Osbourne Incorporated, said they’ve done a facility plan with the Washington State Department of Ecology and agreed that the next big step for the project would be the sample drilling.
“Ecology wants to see that analysis, which way its flowing and what the current groundwater quality is at this location,” he said.
In order to build the wastewater system and facility, Garrison said it’s all a matter of waiting for the right grant to come along so the city can finance the construction. The city is holding off on applying for state loans, Garrison said, because that could cause a sharp increase in user fees.
Now that the city knows how to move forward, it’s a matter of “where” that’s the key issue.
The City of Rainier is currently looking at a property east of downtown that Garrison says is flat and large enough that it could serve as the base for well testing.
“I don’t know if it’s for sale. We’ve tried to purchase it, but I don’t think that at this point they were interested in selling,” she said.
Due to the sensitivity of a potential purchase, Garrison would not disclose the exact location of the property.
The biggest reason Rainier is moving forward with a planned wastewater system is because it has the potential to increase density and business development within the city limits.
Garrison said more businesses within the downtown area would amount to more business and occupation taxes for the city government.
Without the sewer system, there’s little ability for the city to grow.
“It surely affects the growth issue,” Garrison said. “And some people might be fine with that.”
Single-building septic systems are large and stunt the density in which developers can build single-family homes. A city-wide wastewater system would allow developers to build more densely within the city limits.
Garrison said the city has plans to start at the downtown core and expand outward with the project.
Hinton said there’s definitely a larger trend of affordability issues that cities face when attempting to construct a sewer system.
“It’s a big jump going from septic tanks and septic fields to a facility that will treat residential and commercial waste water,” Hinton said.
When looking at the process for moving forward on the project, Hinton said he sees three main factors: There’s the issue of funding, the politics of the situation and there’s the public’s opinion.
“How much do people really want to get sewers. That tailors not only into public opinion, but the developer’s,” Hinton said.
He estimates that the city could see a sewer system, at the earliest, within five to 10 years — without major hurdles.