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The State of Washington adopted the Growth Management Act (GMA) in 1990. The Growth Management Act (GMA) is a series of state statutes that requires cities and counties to develop a comprehensive plan to manage their population growth. It is codified under Chapter 36.70A RCW and Chapter 365-196 WAC. Under GMA, septic systems are not considered to be an urban service. Urban services, including municipal sewers, are required in order to have the type of development typically associated with urban areas. Jefferson County designated the Port Hadlock/Irondale area as an Urban Growth Area (UGA) because it was an area already “characterized by urban growth” (36.70A.110(1)).
The County adopted land uses and zoning that would allow additional urban development densities and intensities when public sewer connections are available. The urban zoning permitted under GMA when all urban services are available is contained in the Jefferson County Code (JCC) and allows for greater development density and more intensive land use. In the transition period until sewer connections are available, achievable densities are largely limited by the minimum space requirements needed to meet the on-site septic code, typically a 12,500 square foot lot. A sewer also takes up less property area than a septic tank, drain field, and reserve drain field, allowing development and redevelopment at urban densities.
The Table below has web links to land use and zoning maps, and JCC land use tables for both the current (without sewer) scenario and future (with sewer) scenario. By comparing the before and after condition, it is possible to see how a sewer would create more land use potential and land value in the Port Hadlock Urban Growth Area.
By referring to the maps and code sections in the table above, one can see from the Transitional Rural Zoning map that without sewer availability, much of Port Hadlock is covered by an interim zoning of Rural Residential RR-5. By way of example, RR-5 means that a 5-acre parcel could not be subdivided, and only one house and one Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) could be constructed on it. All land is subject to meeting separate septic regulations, so even smaller lots of record (lots that were subdivided prior to GMA) would typically need to be at least 12,500 square feet or a consolidation of a number of smaller lots to meet the minimum size requirement in order to be developed. This also means that in a best-case scenario, the current zoning would support 3 houses per acre if the property had been subdivided into minimum sized lots of 12,500 square feet prior to GMA. Alternatively, once a sanitary sewer is constructed, Port Hadlock has residential zoning of Low Density Residential (LDR 4-6 dwelling units per acre), Moderate Density Residential (MDR 7 to 12 units per acre) or High Density Residential (HDR 13 to 18 units per acre), making multifamily and apartment units possible in the MDR and HDR zones.
Without sewer, Port Hadlock’s commercial core has a Transitional Rural Zone of Rural Village Center (RVC). The commercial zone along SR 19 has a Transitional Rural Zone of General Crossroads. This allows for some small-scale commercial use but there are limitations on building size, height, and lot coverage. For example, under RVC zoning the maximum building size is 20,000 square feet and maximum building height is 35 feet. Alternatively, under Urban Commercial zoning with sewer, building size is dictated by site conditions with no specified maximum building size, and building height can be up to 70 feet to allow for and accommodate increased densities. There is also some Urban Light Industrial zoning in part of the UGA once a sewer is available.
Most of the buildings and businesses in Port Hadlock were developed prior to GMA and are primarily served by private septic systems. Although there is no “bright line” established in GMA regarding what residential densities are urban and what is rural, decisions from Growth Management Hearings Board cases in Jefferson County have accepted at least four (4) dwelling units per acre to be considered an urban density. A significant amount of the current development pattern in Port Hadlock had been planned around meeting the 12,500 square foot minimum parcel size for septic systems, and would not have been allowed under current GMA regulations. The existing uses are “grandfathered”, meaning that as long as no significant changes are proposed, the current uses can continue. Until a sanitary sewer facility is available, however, redevelopment of land to accommodate higher densities cannot occur.
In the meantime, property owners must inspect and maintain their septic systems in accordance with State and County law, and when these systems fail they must be replaced with a new septic system meeting the most current on-site septic waste treatment standards. The requirements related to septic system installation continue to become more stringent. In some cases when faced with replacing a failing septic system, property owners have had difficulty applying a conventional system under current site conditions and requirements and have had to install more expensive alternative systems at a much higher cost. Eventually, most property owners in Port Hadlock will be faced with performing a significant overhaul or complete replacement of their septic systems unless a sanitary sewer facility is constructed. This has prompted significant interest by some property owners in the UGA for a sanitary sewer facility.
Jefferson County designated the Port Hadlock/Irondale area as an Urban Growth Area (UGA) under the requirements of the Washington State Growth Management Act (GMA) to allow future growth at urban densities and promote higher density housing and commercial land use. The boundaries of the UGA are shown on this map.
In 2008, the County completed a Sewer Facility Plan for the UGA and adopted this plan as part of the County’s overall Comprehensive Plan. The Sewer Facility Plan showed a phasing plam for sanitary sewer development starting with the Port Hadlock “Core Area.” This is the area of mostly commercial development along State Route 116 (Ness’s Corner Road) and Chimacum Road.
Due to the challenges and high cost of starting a brand-new sewer system throughout the entire UGA at once, the County has been focusing its efforts on planning sewer availability first in the Port Hadlock Core Area, while at the same time making sure any sewer system that is put in place can be progressively expanded to serve future implementation phases and ultimately serve the entire UGA.
Significant interest in sewer service has come from property owners within the Port Hadlock Core Area. In 2018 property owners within the Core Area submitted a petition from over 100 of the parcel owners indicating support for sewer service. In response to this petition, the County commissioned a sewer feasibility study to determine whether newer technology and a different approach could be used to bring down the cost of the sewer for the initial service area in Port Hadlock. Information about the study and its results are reported in the Port Hadlock Wastewater System Value Engineering Review (May 2019.)
This study showed that there could be considerable cost-savings over the original 2008 plan by using a small, modular treatment plant employing newly available technology and by installing a pressurized collection system (pipes in the road) instead of a traditional gravity collection system. The County is currently pursuing this option further with members of a Sewer Working Group from Port Hadlock and is updating the Sewer Facility Plan to reflect this current vision for sewer service.
The diagram below shows the primary sewer system components. Starting at the home/business, these elements are:
Figure 1 - Wastewater System Elements
With the pressurized sewer system currently envisioned, the on-site elements are the pipes, control panel, grinder pump, and curb box (valve) that take sewage from the home/business to sewer collection pipes located in the public right of way (street). There may be loan programs available to assist property owners with this element. These costs will vary significantly depending upon factors such as the type of home/business being served, the distance to the street, and the type of restoration required (i.e. lawn, landscaping, or pavement). The grinder pump pushes sewage down the pipes towards the wastewater treatment plant. The pumps do require care and maintenance. To ensure that pumps are installed and maintained properly, the Department of Ecology will require that this part of the system be maintained by the sewer utility company even though it is located on private property. "An Introduction to Pressure Sewers," by the Submersible Wastewater Pump Association (SWPA,) is a good source of information about pressure sewer systems.
Figure 2 - Typical On-Site Elements for a Residence or Small Business
The collection system consists of the pipes in the public streets that transport sewage to the sewage treatment plant. Current plans for Port Hadlock call for a low-pressure collection system which uses the grinder pumps at each home or business to push the wastewater through these lines to the sewer treatment plant. Because the lines are pressurized, they can run uphill and do not need to be buried more than 4 to 5 feet below the ground. There is more flexibility in the routing of pressurized sewer lines which can help avoid other existing utilities and deep manholes are not required. In some cases, pressurized collection lines can be installed using directional boring, a “trenchless” installation technique that requires very little excavation and disturbance. This installation method was used in Brinnon for the Dosewallips State Park sewer system, for example.
A pressurized sewer collection system can provide significant cost savings for initial installation compared to traditional “gravity” sewer lines which require deep excavations to make sure that sewage pipes flow downhill and use large lift stations to overcome hilly topography. When traditional gravity sewers are installed in streets and highways the installation and road restoration costs can be quite high. Pressurized sewer systems are often used for small sewer systems that have fewer users or in situations with hilly topography or high groundwater tables. Gravity sewers are more typical for larger municipal systems where over the long run the high initial installation cost can be offset by savings in maintenance and operations because grinder pumps are not needed at each home/business. The original plan for the Port Hadlock sewer called for a gravity collection system; however, because initial costs were so high and grants from the State and Federal government so hard to obtain, the County is now proposing to install a pressurized collection system to keep startup costs as low as possible in the initial sewer service area.
The wastewater treatment plant is where the collection system brings the sewage for treatment. After the sewage is processed, the resulting clean Class A wastewater is fed into an infiltration pond which will allow the water to recharge the aquifer in the Chimacum watershed. The sewer treatment process that has been approved by the Department of Ecology requires a Membrane Bioreactor (MBR). These MBR systems treat wastewater to very high standards required for infiltration on land since permitting a new sewer outfall into Puget Sound is virtually impossible. The current proposal is to use a pre-assembled modular MBR system that essentially arrives on a truck ready to go. There are other components that still have to be constructed along with the plant such as inlet screens and storage ponds; however, these modular systems have seen rapid technological advances in recent years that make them highly cost-effective and reliable. These units allow a sewer to start small and can be added onto as demand increases. This avoids the need to build a traditional sewer treatment plant that may have to be oversized initially to handle future demand. In nearby Port Gamble, one of these units was recently used with good results to replace their aging sewer plant that could no longer meet today’s water quality standards. An example of this system is shown below.
Figure 4 - Typical Pre-Assembled Modular MBR Treatment Plant
After passing through the MBR process, treated water is piped to a rapid rate infiltration pond where it quickly soaks into the ground. Thickened sludge at the treatment site is hauled off-site to a larger sewer treatment plant where it is eventually processed into compost such as at the City of Port Townsend.
The County has purchased all of the land needed for the treatment plant site and the wastewater infiltration area and performed extensive, multi-year hydro-geologic studies, which have resulted in the County receiving the required approvals for this site and process from the Department of Ecology. The property is located on both the north and south side of Lopeman Road in Port Hadlock.
Figure 5 - Conceptual Site Plan Showing Location of Treatment Plant and Infiltration Area on County Property