Town Council reviews local infrastructure priorities
May 5, 2021
Town of La Conner officials made fast work last Tuesday of major capital project priorities that are sure to be years in the making.
Technology glitches, which made audio reception iffy at best for much of a 35-minute April 27 Town Council Zoom meeting, shortened discussion of plans related to an array of topics from replacing the aging Channel Drive water main to the long-sought ring dike north of the La Conner schools campus to anticipated state mandated upgrades at the wastewater treatment plant.
Channel Drive, an immediate need, garnered the greatest attention.
“In the past year we’ve had three breaks out there that have been a real pain to work with,” said Town Public Works Director Brian Lease.
Lease noted that the Channel Drive/Skagit Beach water system was initially maintained privately, then eventually conveyed to the Town.
But now, he said, the failing water line has reached its life expectancy.
“There are a lot of complications,” said Lease, “because of encroachment of landscaping over the main.”
Lease recommended, and the Council agreed by a 4-1 vote, to undertake a right of way survey in preparation for future construction of a new main.
“The survey needs to happen before we can get into the design phase,” Lease said.
Actual construction could approach $1 million, according to Lease. How it will be paid, whether by a grant or some degree of a resident cost-share approach, is a question for another day.
“We need an estimate of the cost,” said Town Administrator Scott Thomas, who endorsed the survey proposal, “and then figure out what mechanism can be used to pay for it. If we don’t have an estimate, we can’t proceed with a way to pay for it.”
“I don’t see how our constituents would want to pay for this,” Council member Jacques Brunisholz said in voting against it, questioning the Town’s level of responsibility to finance either the survey or main construction.
Brunisholz said the lion’s share of costs should be borne by those serviced by the line.
“We’re obligated to do the survey,” Council member Bill Stokes insisted, “because we provide the water.”
Council member Mary Wohleb agreed, noting, “We can talk about how it (the new line) will be paid for later.”
Thomas said the next step for the ring dike project, the issue on which Brunisholz originally ran for Council more than a decade ago, is engineering. Stokes, his tongue firmly planted in cheek, could not resist lobbying for minimum engineering costs.
“I would hope it wouldn’t take much engineering to engineer a dike,” Stokes said. “I hope they don’t come back with a $50,000 fee for engineering.
“Let’s just rent a tractor and Jacques and I will go out and do it,” he chuckled.
Mayor Ramon Hayes shifted the conversation to a national outlook.
“I want us to be in position to apply for projects if a federal infrastructure bill is passed,” Hayes told the Council. “I would want to capture a great deal of that money for this community.”
The wastewater treatment plant would be a primary target, he said.
“It will be a very expensive project,” Hayes predicted. “We’ll need grant funds to pay for that project to the best of our ability.”
Thomas told Council said the Town is developing an application for Community Development Block Grant funding to craft plans improvements in La Conner’s formerly bustling south end industrial area, including a potential extension of south First Street to Caledonia.
The Council formally accepted the Caledonia Street pump station. “All the project’s punch orders are now done,” Lease said.
Wohleb, the Council’s liaison to the Town Parks Commission, said that the panel had formed a citizen’s committee to develop a survey for public input on how the park space at Hedlin’s Ballfield should be designed and utilized. The survey will likely be made available this summer, she reported.