Eastsound Wastewater Treatment Project

CED-79-80: Published: Apr 30, 1979. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 1979.

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A sewer project was planned for Eastsound, Washington, an unincorporated community on Orcas Island, one of the San Juan Island cluster, in Puget Sound. The islands are rural in character, with settlements of shops and restaurants, are used primarily for recreation, and support numbers of tourists who use the resort and park facilities and create a large seasonal population influx. Orcas Island residents now use individual septic systems for sewage disposal. The planned Eastsound sewer system consists of pressure sewer collectors and interceptors, a secondary treatment plant, and a marine outfall for the treated effluent. The Eastsound Concerned Citizens Committee, a group of Orcas Island residents, made several allegations concerning the proposed sewer system, questioning the need for such a project and the procedures followed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which permitted the project's funding.

Washington assigns priorities to sewer projects based on need, and requests EPA funding support accordingly. However, GAO found no evidence to support the state's rating of the Eastsound project. It did not use objective methods, such as dye and bacteriological tests in assigning priority points to the project. Apparently, state officials and the consulting engineer relied only on letters expressing concern over local sewage disposal problems in deciding to pursue the project. GAO investigated but found no substantial evidence that the Eastsound water supply was being contaminated, nor did GAO find indications that the area could not support existing septic systems. The Concerned Citizens' allegation that assessments for the sewage system were inequitable was borne out, with rates projected as high as twice the EPA-suggested guideline. A meeting was planned, including EPA and state personnel and local residents, to review the possibility of incorporating low-cost individual systems within the proposed service area and to determine whether the planned scope and design of the project are appropriate for the area.

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