Pierce County sewer facility expansion will make way for growth
Major construction on a $353 million expansion of Pierce County’s sewage treatment facility in University Place will begin late this year.
The Pierce County Council is expected to take a big step forward next month by giving initial approval for the sale of $210 million in bonds for the project.
The county plans to finish the work by mid-2016, when the current plant will be at or near capacity.
A year before that, however, workers will take an important break so as not to disturb a large group of distinguished visitors next door – some of the world’s top golfers and their entourage gathered for the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay Golf Course.
The treatment plant, at its closest point, is just 1,300 feet from the golf course.
The Chambers Creek Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant will expand to increase capacity and meet anticipated stricter treatment regulations.
Utility customers have already started paying for it with a series of rate hikes that will total 63 percent over four years.
At the peak of construction, 400 workers will be on the job.
Capacity at the plant, built in 1984, will increase from 28 million gallons to 43 million gallons daily, said Tim Ramsaur, the county’s wastewater utility manager. That’s enough to meet the county’s demands until 2030, he said.
County Council member Roger Bush said the expansion will give the county an advantage in recruiting employers because the sewer system will have the capacity for their businesses.
County spokesman Hunter George said the expansion is needed to accommodate growth.
“If we don’t expand the plant, that will severely limit economic growth in a significant part of the county,” George said.
The plant provides sewer service to an estimated 252,000 people in unincorporated Pierce County and in cities served by the county. Besides unincorporated areas, the sewer utility services Lakewood, University Place, DuPont, Milton and Steilacoom, as well as portions of Tacoma, Fife and Edgewood.
The construction schedule includes a pause for what is expected to be the biggest sporting event ever held in Pierce County.
Work will shut down for all of June 2015 when the U.S. Open will be played at Chambers Bay next door.
Ramsaur said the break is necessary for that month to avoid interfering with the golf tournament. The U.S. Open is expected to draw up to 50,000 spectators each day to the county-owned course, George said.
The work stoppage means no construction trucks will be adding to congestion on the area’s two-lane roads.
The United States Golf Association needs lead time to construct virtually a small city of spectator and player facilities for the tournament, George said.
But the break also assures that the contractor, Mortenson Construction, has full access to the site when working, Ramsaur said.
“We certainly don’t want any conflict to take place with what the USGA is allowed to do and our contractor is allowed to do,” he said.
The U.S. Open will take place from June 18-21, 2015, preceded by two days of practice rounds.
The majority of wastewater plant construction will be completed before the tournament, Ramsaur said.
The entire expansion requires 6,000 truckloads of concrete for a total of 60,000 yards of concrete.
Some initial construction has been completed, such as excavation and installing a perimeter road.
In addition to the expansion, an older part of the plant will be renovated by replacing worn-out pumps, pipes and other equipment.
A series of bond issues through 2014 is financing the project. So far, about $20 million in bonds has been issued.
Customers have been paying for the expansion since 2010, when the first of four yearly rate increases took effect. With the final hike next January, the monthly sewer rate for single-family residences will have increased from $25.72 to $41.86.
The current average monthly rate of $37.83 is still lower than sewer rates for the cities of Tacoma, Puyallup and Sumner, according to Pierce County.
Besides increasing capacity, the expansion will allow the county to meet stricter state regulations that require reduced nitrogen levels in the treated liquid discharge going into Puget Sound, Ramsaur said.
The county is the largest sole-source contributor of nitrogen into the Sound south of the Tacoma Narrows. Too much nitrogen feeds plant life, which in turn reduces oxygen for sea life.