Discover more from The Journal 425
[UNLOCKED] SPECIAL REPORT City vs Sewer District II - A Brief History of Lake Stevens Local Government
NOW FREE TO ALL READERS We turn back time to 1960 - the year Frontier Village debuted as a commercial center and the city and the sewer district emerged as local gov entities
In part one of this report, we told you about the city and the sewer district’s contentious legal battle that is spilling over into lawsuits, letter-sending campaigns, vitriolic public meetings and social media back-and-forths. We will pick up with more on the legal battle and the battle of words in coming days (we expect three more installments of this series) but today we turn back the clock to 1960 and before — if you wanna get caught up on our earlier reporting follow the link to part one at the bottom of the story. Thank you as always for reading.
LAKE STEVENS - Today, the Lake Stevens Sewer District is a behemoth of a public entity… a complex network of real estate, hardware and infrastructure valued at over $100 million dollars net present value.
Its mission: to provide sewer services to the Lake Stevens urban growth area.
In practice, the sewer system itself relies on a complex map of 126 miles of piping powered by gravity augmented by 30 lift stations.
Lift stations are required to convey flow through the hilly topography of the service area, which ranges from near sea level at the Ebey Slough outflow, to above 400 feet in several areas, including near Lake Stevens High School and along SR-9 near the northern edge of the service area.
This system of pipes and lift stations ultimately conveys wastewater from around the perimeter of Lake Stevens, west to the sewer district’s Sunnyside treatment plant, and out to the Snohomish River and ultimately the Puget Sound via the Ebey Slough.
This system described above, however, wasn’t built in a day. In fact, the Lake Stevens Sewer District actually predates the City of Lake Stevens.
Government In Bloom
The origin story of this special purpose district begins when the water quality in Lake Stevens deteriorated beyond public acceptance during the summer of 1955.
That summer, a bloom of blue-green algae appeared along the western shore of the lake accompanied by an unpleasant odor.
A pollution committee was formed to develop solutions for the deteriorating water quality.
The committee concluded that the underlying strata of hardpan found in the lake's drainage basin made the on-site sewage disposal systems in the area of the lake ineffective, resulting in raw sewage discharge directly into the lake and tributary streams.
Thus, the roots of the modern Lake Stevens Sewer District was formed in 1957 – as a collective effort to address degradation of water quality in Lake Stevens caused by ineffective on-site sewer systems.
Jim Mitchell, a founding member of the Sewer District and a Lake Stevens Hall of Fame Inductee recalls the formation of the district in his 2004 book “Lake Stevens - My Town”.
“In 1958, the community attempted to form a sewer district and vote bonds to construct a sewer around the entire lake. The bond issue did not pass,” Mitchell recalled.
“The cost to build a sewer around the lake would have cost three quarters of a million dollars and at the time many thought the system would bankrupt the community.
Three years after the initial sewer rumblings, the City of Lake Stevens was formed parallel to Frontier Village opening as a commercial hub.
At the time of its incorporation in 1960, the City had a population of approximately 900 residents living in the area now thought of as historic downtown.
“In 1960, many of the businesses in the (historic) downtown area of Lake Stevens moved to the new Frontier Village commercial development,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell remembered that locals felt that with the loss of the drug store, two doctors, the dentist, and the bank the town would dry up and die.
As a result the city was incorporated. Later, in1960, the unincorporated part of the community formed a sewer district and constructed a sewer system.
Clean Water on the Frontier
With so much change in 1960, there was also redundancy.
“The City of Lake Stevens constructed its own sewer for the town, in addition to the District. The combined final cost of the two systems was $2.5 million dollars,” Mitchell recalled, adding “I hope that in the not-too-distant future the two entities will become unified.”
In its early years, the sewer district initially focused on threats caused by poorly functioning septic systems surrounding the lake – a good portion of which still exist today.
A LSSD map shows property connected to the sewer system and areas that remain on septic (dark blue).
In short, the district’s work centered on problems with trenches, sealants, pipes and concrete led to seepage that threatened both the lake and drinking water.
The long term answer lay in the creation of a modern sanitary sewage system, the first portions of which were constructed in the late 1960s.
And where a public financing option had failed pre1960, this time the men running the sewer district relied on what would become a signature move: the district's first treatment facility was financed by developers and built to serve their growing commercial Frontier Village complex.
The initial treatment facility consisted of a 1.4 acre oxidation pond that was twice expanded.
A Long List of LIDs
From that point forward, the sewer district grew through the repeated use of Local Improvement Districts - a financing tool provided to public agencies that allows for improvements to be financed over time by taxing the benefiting properties. In short, the sewer district could target an area of growth, float a bond to pay for the construction of the necessary infrastructure, and then pay back the debt by collecting taxes from the customers served by the new infrastructure.
This method was used first in 1971, when the sewer district launched two LIDs coupled with financing from the EPA and extended its boundaries from the southern tip of Lake Stevens to the northerly shore; as well as along the 91st Avenue corridor from Vernon Road to roughly Hillcrest Elementary.
The City and the sewer district entered their first partnership in 1970, allowing the City to discharge sewage into the District's collection and treatment system at the north end of the lake. The contract governing this partnership defined the quantity and quality of the sewage to be discharged to the district and was revisited in 1983, 1986, 1991 and 1996.
By 2002, Lake Stevens had experienced modest growth, with a population of just under 7,000 people living across approximately 1,500 acres in the northeast section of the lake.
It was during this time that the City developed the goal of creating "One Community Around the Lake' through annexation. Over the past 21 years, the city has grown to nearly 6,000 acres and an estimated 34,150 plus residents through a series of annexations around the lake. Sewer service is an essential urban service to existing Lake Stevens residents, commercial businesses, and industrial uses.
While the City didn’t become “One Community Around the Lake” until nearly 40 years later, by 1980, the sewer district’s area of service had grown to cover almost the entire perimeter of Lake Stevens: a 1980 LID financed sewer improvements serving the east side of the lake south of the City of Lake Stevens. The construction financed by the 1980 LID nearly completed the collection system coverage of the perimeter of the lake.
State-of-the-Art Treatment Center Comes Online
The district’s wastewater treatment plant was expanded a second time in the mid-eighties and by the mid 1990’s, two more LIDs financed infrastructure improvements west of the lake, serving the eastern corridor of SR-9 between 4th Street Northeast and 12th Place Southeast. The district completed construction of its new Sunnyside wastewater treatment facility in 2012.
The current system consists of 30 lift stations and 126 miles of pipes ranging between eight inches and three feet in diameter. Wastewater is discharged to the Sunnyside treatment plant, which has an outfall to Ebey Slough in the Snohomish Estuary.
According to the sewer district’s comprehensive plan, one fifth of this system is more than 40 years old and shows evidence of infiltration at pipe defects such as misaligned joints, cracks, fractures and holes.
The new Sunnyside Treatment Plant facility provides adequate wastewater treatment and disposal to the District’s service area through the year 2028, with provisions for upgrades to serve build-out conditions.
The district says upgrades will be deferred until the anticipated growth happens.
NEXT IN THE J425 SPECIAL REPORT - PART III - The 2005 Agreement
In 2005, the sewer district and Lake Stevens entered into an agreement that “determined the orderly transition of public sewer service…from two systems to one system, ultimately the City’s system.”
The mutual agreement stated that the City of Lake Stevens “has statutory approval rights and responsibilities for the district’s comprehensive sewer plan under RCW Chapter 57” and then lays out a multi-staged plan for the operation and merger of the two entities.
The language is pretty clear and direct. Nothing else is though.