Downtown sewer repairs to cost city $2.6 million

Posted 5/24/23

After reviewing two repair options — one for $4 million and the other for $2.6 million — the Port Townsend City Council has unanimously approved the less costly alternative to fix its …

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Downtown sewer repairs to cost city $2.6 million


After reviewing two repair options — one for $4 million and the other for $2.6 million — the Port Townsend City Council has unanimously approved the less costly alternative to fix its aging sewer system.

During the council meeting last week, city officials were told engineers had determined the sewer main between the Port Townsend Ferry Terminal and Gaines Street was in “critical condition.”

According to an analysis and video inspection completed by Bothell-based RH2 Engineering, most of the pipes have considerable sediment inside, which hampered the firm’s ability to fully inspect the sewer main.

“You’ve gotten a 56-year life out of this pipeline, and it’s at the end of its useful life,” said John Hendron, a consultant with RH2.

The need to fix the sewer main was made apparent after a late-December break sent sewage overflowing at the Gaines and Water streets intersection.

The 14-inch pipe, approximately 10 feet underground, was damaged due to a high tide late last year.

“As we dug that pipe out of the ground, it was just this gooey mess,” said Public Works Director Steve King.

Based on what was found, consultants offered two choices to fix the sewer main.

“This is classic, this failure here,” Hendron said. “We’ve seen it in other Northwest communities such as city of Tukwila; Poulsbo; Kitsap County Public Works and their old town Silverdale.”

The first option involves an open-cut of the existing pipe with an 18- or 24-inch polymer pipe being placed around 2,000 feet of the line in its current location. That would cost the city approximately $4 million, with significant construction impacts on Water Street and the surrounding area.

Considering the construction consequences and hefty cost of the first plan, the city council selected the second option. That plan will utilize directional drilling to install a little more than 1,500 feet of new, high-density polyethylene pipe, as well as another 1,050 feet of polyethylene pipe slipped inside the existing asbestos-concrete pipe.

The choice will also involve completely rebuilding the Monroe Street pump station and potentially moving the pump station to another location nearby.

“This is a much more elegant and cost-effective solution,” Hendron said. “It would be less time, less disruptive to traffic. And hopefully, we could start on it this winter.”

Councilmember Libby Urner Wennstrom questioned the potential drawbacks of the $2.6 million plan.

“Directional drilling works right up until you hit a boulder, so there’s the outside chance that you might have to dig up the side of the road,” King said in response. “I would say that is still far less intrusive than digging up all of Water Street.”

Another advantage is reliability.

“Directional drilling has gotten so much more reliable in the last 20 years,” Hendron said. “It used to be a real white-knuckle event, but the equipment is so much better now.”

Considering the multimillion-dollar price tag — which could rise with unexpected construction costs — the city is hoping to get a low-interest loan.

“I suppose if we scraped together every nickel, we could fund this out of our reserves. But it would not be a fun situation,” King said. “We’re really looking at a Public Works Trust Fund Board loan.”

If all goes as planned, the city could be approved for a low-interest loan from the state in early August. The loan would come with a
0.5 to 1.5 percent interest rate, according to city staff.

Councilmembers expressed support for the lower-cost approach.

“I really, genuinely appreciate that we are dealing with this before it just fully collapses and breaks,” said Councilmember Amy Howard. “Nobody likes to spend $4 million or $2.6 million on poop, but if we don’t, we’re in a really bad situation.”

“This will cost our community more. But the alternative is we don’t do it. And it costs them way more down the road,” said Mayor David Faber.

“Maybe it’s a Sophie’s Choice, but it’s better to add a little bit of cost now than a lot of cost later,” he said.