State won’t force Belfair sewer hookups, Sheldon says

OLYMPIA – State officials are offering assurances they will not require residential property owners surrounding Belfair to hook up to the Belfair sewers, reports Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch.

Sheldon convened a meeting of state and local government officials last week in Olympia to discuss expansion plans for the Belfair wastewater system – a matter of top concern for residents of the greater Belfair area. Sheldon said state officials made clear they are not requiring expansion of the Belfair wastewater system to force new hookups on residents within the Belfair urban growth boundary. State officials also clarified that there is no moratorium on new construction in the Belfair urban growth area, he said, and they expressed support for local efforts to expand the customer base by seeking new commercial users.

“State agencies are listening to our concerns,” Sheldon said. “They made it clear that there are no state requirements mandating expansion of the system to residential property owners. That means Mason County doesn’t have to force them to pay for costly sewer hookups. This is a big win for property owners within the urban growth boundary.”

Sheldon called the meeting to settle questions raised in public meetings last year about Belfair sewer expansion plans. Included in the meeting were officials of the Department of Ecology, Department of Health and the Department of Commerce growth management division, as well as Mason County Support Services Director Frank Pinter and Community Services Director David Windom, and Kevin Shutty, chair of the Mason County commission and Sheldon’s successor as commissioner.

“I appreciate Sen. Sheldon arranging this important meeting,” Shutty said. “To have leadership from both Ecology and Commerce in the same room discussing solutions for the Belfair sewer system gives me great hope that we can turn a corner and put ourselves on the right track to a solvent system that meets the needs of residents without giving away our future. For the first time, I believe we have the facts and information we need to write a plan that pencils out for Mason County.”

Belfair-area residents have long worried they might be required to tie into the system to provide a sufficient customer base to cover operating costs. Expansion for commercial users remains an option. Currently Mason County is exploring a partnership with the Port of Bremerton to expand sewer coverage to the Puget Sound Industrial Complex north of Belfair. Shutty has signed a capital budget request seeking state funding to help get that project started, noting that the plan has the support of the city of Bremerton.

During the meeting:

  • State officials said it might be possible to reduce the size of the Belfair urban growth area, but state funding for sewer projects could be delayed if the downsizing is challenged in court.
  • Ecology reported that the terms of previous loans do not obligate Mason County to provide a specific number of hookups.
  • Ecology and Commerce officials offered Mason County assistance with planning for future needs. Mason County intends to produce an updated sewer plan in coming weeks.
  • State and local officials agreed there is no moratorium on new construction in the Belfair urban growth area.
  • Ecology offered to work with Mason County to explore extending the terms of current loans for the Belfair system, with reduced interest rates, reducing costs for the county.