A sewer system to serve the Port of Walla Walla's Burbank Business Park and the Columbia School District in Burbank is transforming from a dream to a reality this summer.
Port of Walla Walla commissioners last week approved a $511,000 contract with Watts Construction of Kennewick to build the bulk of the sewer system needed for the district's three schools.
At the same time, Apex Directional Drilling of Portland continues to extend a 6-inch sewer line under the Snake River to connect the business park to Pasco's sewer system.
Port officials have been working to extend sewer to the 120-acre business park, which has commercial and light industrial zoning and easy access to Highway 12, with the goal of spurring economic development in Burbank. The community of Burbank now relies on septic systems to handle waste.
Serving the school district has always been part of the port's plan, with part of the $3 million the port received from the state Legislature earmarked for design and construction of the sewer system meant to cover connecting the three schools.
District Superintendent Lou Gates said connecting to the port's new sewer system is environmentally responsible because it will allow the district to address concerns about borderline nitrate levels, which tend to increase as septic tanks and drain fields work, he said.
Eventually, it's possible the district would have needed to put in its own sewer system or truck its sewage out, Gates said. Working with the port to fix the problem now was a good opportunity, he said.
The port's sewer extension project parallels its earlier efforts to extend potable water to the Burbank Business Park, said Jim Kuntz, the port's executive director. The port built a system larger than what it needed, and it now serves the school district and the Columbia View neighborhood.
Gates said the district had concerns about nitrates in the groundwater because higher levels of nitrates can negatively affect the health of young children and those with compromised immune systems. The district does serve preschoolers and some students with "brittle" health, he said. The schools switched over to the port's potable water system in 2010.
The school district enrolls about 850 students. Enrollment has declined in the past decade, with the district serving about 100 fewer students, said Gates. But what the future will bring is uncertain. The port's business park could spark demand for more housing that could bring in more families with children, he said.
The port has the ability to serve Burbank residents with its sewer system, which would allow denser housing since homes would not need their own septic tanks.
Actual construction on the school district portion of the sewer lines won't start until summer break. But awarding the contract now will allow the contractor to order the materials and be ready to start once school is out, Kuntz said. Construction is expected to finish before school starts again at the end of August.
This phase of the project involves installing 4,200 linear feet of gravity sewer piping crossing under six roads, according to port documents. The pipe will be between 5 to 14 feet underground.
It's the major portion of the work to get the sewer system ready to start providing sewer to the elementary, middle and high schools by the 2015-16 school year, Kuntz said. This year's portion of the district sewer project may cost about $779,000, according to port documents.
The schools will remain on the septic system for one more school year as the port works to finish extending the pipeline under the river and connect to the city of Pasco's system, he said.
So far, a hole has been drilled 40 feet under the river through basalt and it now reaches the Franklin County side, Kuntz said. The contractor is working on putting a steel casing pipe on the Franklin County side to stabilize the hole.
Then, the contractor will drill the hole to make it wider, which will take several months, Kuntz said.
The process has been slower than expected, he said. The contractor has dealt with instability on the surface on both sides of the river, making it difficult to maintain the bored hole.
The Snake River portion of the overall sewer project will cost about $2.1 million.
Next summer, the port should be able to finish the physical connections between the schools and the new sewer system, Kuntz said. Then, eight of the district's ten septic tanks will be decommissioned, which will involve pumping them out and then filling them.
The school district will pay the port a per-student fee once the sewer system is up and running, he said. The port will pay Pasco monthly for sewer services with fees collected from the users of the new system.
"The port is basically going to be in the sewer transmission business," Kuntz said.
Commissioners reached an agreement with the city of Pasco in 2012 to buy 100,000 gallons of daily sewer capacity for $900,000 paid over three years. The port will buy additional capacity in the next 15 years and also pay the city and other sewer fees.