Winlock has endorsed a proposal for Napavine to potentially connect with Winlock's sewer system, as Napavine officials continue to explore their options for wastewater treatment services.
Discussed during the regular meetings of each city's councils last week, the offer from Winlock was put on the table as Napavine looks for ways to avoid a significant rate increase if they continue to receive services through the City of Chehalis.
Since 1976, Napavine has received sewer services from Chehalis' plant with a 12 percent ownership stake in the system, agreeing to pay their share of operations, maintenance and improvements, while they retain the ability to set rates for Napavine customers to pay off such costs.
After the Chehalis City Council commissioned a study last February to examine the capacity of the system, it was determined Napavine, as well as Lewis County Water and Sewer District 4, who receive services similarly to Napavine, are paying a lower percentage of costs than their percentage of use of the system, and Napavine was informed they would see an increase of roughly 70 percent above the costs they are currently responsible for.
Chehalis Wastewater Superintendent Patrick Wiltzius said this higher rate is not a reflection of new or different services Napavine and District 4 are receiving, but rather a more accurate reflection, based on the study, of what each is responsible for based on how they are using the system.
He said part of the intent behind requesting the study was no such analysis had been conducted since around 2007, when the most recent upgrade to the sewer plant was completed, while the city was also curious about overall plant capacity because of large businesses who have expressed an interest in potentially moving to the area and using the system.
Napavine has said they would like to learn what factors in the study indicated their rates needed to increase so significantly, and they will be sending representatives next month to a meeting of the Sewer Operating Board, an advisory body with members from Napavine, District 4 and Chehalis charged with addressing sewer system ownership and management.
Napavine City Council Member Jenifer Slemp, who will be serving on the board, said she expects to take a look at the numbers from the study and determine how they can best be used to serve the entities taking part in the system.
"It comes down to economics," she said of the matter, adding she was unable to comment on specific concerns as she had not yet seen the study.
While the increases have still not taken effect, with Wiltzius stating they would have been instated at the beginning of the year but have been put on hold while the concerns of Napavine and District 4 are addressed, Napavine has begun exploring alternative options, including building their own sewer system and, as of last week, hooking into Winlock's existing plant.
"I did get some pricing of what it would take to run a line down there and purchase 50 percent of their plant, versus what we do now," said Napavine Community Development Director Steve Ashley during his council's Jan. 13 meeting, stating a rough estimate for the total cost of connecting with Winlock would be around $10 million.
He said this compared to an estimate of around $10 million to $12 million for a sewer system of their own, and said more specific estimates for both would be available after further research is conducted.
When the Winlock City Council was informed of the issue during their Jan. 12 meeting, they were quick to show their support of the idea, as the increased customer base, as well as the influx of revenue, would go a long way toward reducing what are currently among the highest sewer rates in the county at around $138 per month.
"This is probably the only way we're going to lower the water/sewer rates, is if something like this was to happen," said Winlock Mayor Lonnie J. Dowell, adding it would not cost the city anything simply to look into the possibility.
The council then unanimously voted to officially extend to Napavine the option of hooking into Winlock's system, with Dowell noting Napavine would still be the ultimate decision-makers on the issue.
Ashley indicated a final decision from Napavine may not come for a matter of months, as they are hoping to clarify and resolve their concerns with Chehalis, while more accurate cost projections for alternatives are also needed, as well as an endorsement of their options from the Department of Ecology.
"They're looking at every possible cost process," he said of Napavine officials, "and they're going to do what's best for Napavine."
Napavine sewer customers currently pay a base rate of $47 per month with an added charge of $4.90 for every cubic 100 feet of water used, with Ashley stating an average household consumes around 600 cubic feet per month. If Chehalis does choose to impose a greater cost responsibility on Napavine, which the contract between the two cities allows Chehalis to do unilaterally, it would still fall on Napavine to change the monthly rates for customers, if at all.
It was further stated by Napavine City Attorney Mark Scheibmeir that Chehalis would have no obligation to buy out Napavine's stake in the sewer plant if Napavine were to cancel their services, and they could very well remain partial owners of a system they are not utilizing.