County hires lobbyist to pursue money for sewer in Port Hadlock

By James Robinson of the Leader
Posted 1/11/10

A Seattle-based public relations and lobbying firm will continue to seek state and federal dollars on behalf of Jefferson County for the Tri-Area sewer project, following the county commissioners’ …

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County hires lobbyist to pursue money for sewer in Port Hadlock

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A Seattle-based public relations and lobbying firm will continue to seek state and federal dollars on behalf of Jefferson County for the Tri-Area sewer project, following the county commissioners’ vote Monday.

In a unanimous vote, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) approved a six-month contract extension with Strategies 360 – a sub-consultant of the county’s chief sewer-consulting firm Tetra Tech – in hopes of keeping the sewer project on target, on schedule and tapped into government dollars. But the contract extension has its own cost. The vote will tack an additional $41,250 onto a sewer project price tag that many estimate will reach $32 million.

Al Scalf, Jefferson County director of community development, told the board he understands the pitfall of adding to the cost.

“The county cannot engage in deficit spending,” Scalf said. “We will not go below the baseline.”

That said, Joel Peterson, Jefferson County associate planner, explained that shifting dollars between project tasks, long-term grant funding and the potential for savings on an influent pump station that might not be needed should help the county weather the expense. In fact, Peterson said the county already had $29,062 in cash on hand it could use for the contract. Peterson said the financial risk appeared slight compared to the possible payback of retaining Strategies 360 for an additional six months.

In a time when government budgets are tight and revenue streams are drying up, Peterson and Scalf said Strategies 360 could prove a valuable ally in helping the county secure funds for land acquisition – if in fact, as Peterson alluded, funds exists.

“Part of their scope of work in Olympia is seeking funds for land,” Peterson said. “We’re on the governor’s short list for projects, but that list hasn’t been funded yet. We’re at a point where we’re hopefully optimistic.”

Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, however, told the Leader that the state’s capital budget for the next biennium is under extreme pressure and that lawmakers are looking for ways to cut some $500 million out of it. She is not certain it contains funding for the sewer project. (See related story on A-1.)

Peterson and Scalf said they are intent on completing preliminary tasks to avoid jeopardizing future grant opportunities. Enter Strategies 360. Through its efforts during the legislative sessions in Olympia and Washington D.C., Peterson said the firm will play a vital role in finding dollars for design and land acquisition toward a “shovel ready” stage. At that point, Peterson said, the county would be poised to capture American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars that might become available in the coming months. Maintaining forward momentum with Strategies 360 is key, Peterson said.

Strategies 360 has many government and corporate clients. It was the primary campaign consultant hired by Puget Sound Energy in its unsuccessful 2008 effort to defeat Proposition 1, which authorized the Public Utility District to take over as the county’s electrical utility.

 

Commissioners agree

“I think we need to stay the course for now,” Jefferson County Commissioner David Sullivan said.

Jefferson County pursued the designation of an Urban Growth Area (UGA) in the Tri-Area in response to the state’s 1990 Growth Management Act. The county contracted with Tetra Tech on Dec. 5, 2005, to prepare a sewer facility plan. The sewer facility plan intends to make sewer service available throughout the UGA over the 20-year planning period: 2004–2024.

According to Peterson, phase one of the sewer project focuses on providing sewer service to Port Hadlock’s downtown core, with residential areas phased in over time.

According to preliminary estimates, providing sewer service to Port Hadlock’s commercial core could cost about $30 million, although – based on comments during a citizen forum Monday – the cost for residential inclusions remains unclear.

On Monday, the commissioners traveled to the Jefferson County Library in Port Hadlock for the first in a series of workshops to gain community input. Some residents claimed that linking up to the sewer could cost as much as $25,000.

“This is the face of someone who will be badly affected. I could become homeless over this,” one woman said.

Another added that while businesses might support the project because it would allow their companies to expand, average citizens are opposed because they can’t afford it.

Nevertheless, Sullivan said: “We are at a critical time in this project. If all the pieces don’t come together, we miss a window.”

During a telephone interview, Peterson said: “Putting in a utility is very expensive. Our whole strategy is to go after free money to buy down the cost. Our challenge and our goal is to lower the cost as much as possible so it’s not a hardship on people.”

While it might be too early to calculate the residential inclusion costs, Peterson said the project would provide infrastructure key to long-term business development and the creation of affordable housing and employment opportunities.

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