News

Erlands Point Water Quality Project kicks off to mixed reaction

By PAUL BALCERAK

Staff writer

Kitsap County Health District officials debuted the Erlands Point Water Quality Project with a “neighborhood meeting” Thursday night, but not without a little trepidation from the neighborhood.

The project, which is an extension of the Dyes Inlet Restoration project, will look to identify sources of fecal pollutants spilling into Dyes Inlet from Erlands Point. Part of that investigation will involve the Health District going door-to-door on Erlands Point and asking permission to test for heightened fecal pollutants on private properties.

“I can’t help but think, to a certain extent, that we’re on a fishing expedition here,” Erlands Point resident Bob Tucker said, referring to the fact that no hard data on Erlands Point has been gathered yet. “If there’s not a problem then what’s the problem?”

Tucker and a few others in attendance were under the impression that the point of the project was to clean up what had already been identified as a problem area for pollutants. In fact, most of what the Health District will be doing on Erlands Point will be to simply avoid the area from ever becoming a notorious pollution spot.

“’Proactive’ is the keyword on this project,” said Mindy Fohn, environmental health specialist for the Health District’s water quality program.

Historically, Dyes Inlet has been a chronic area for fecal pollutants. The Washington State Department of Health closed the inlet to shellfishing in the 1960s because of high levels of contaminates. Later, environmental movements in the ’70s and ’80s paved the way for cleanup efforts to begin and shellfishing made a return early in the new millennium.

Throughout that time, the Health District identified faulty or poorly maintained septic systems as some of the main sources for fecal-based water pollution. Twenty-five failing septic systems were found and repaired in 1991, seven more in 2003 and another five just this year. Additionally, nine contaminated drainages into the inlet were found in 2005.

Erlands Point doesn’t have access to a sewer system like urbanized parts of Silverdale and Bremerton.

Using money left over from the Dyes Inlet project — about $30,000 — the Health District will test properties and public lands on Erlands Point and will identify any “hot spots” that appear to be contributing to unsafe water conditions in the inlet.

“Those hot spots are our top priority,” Fohn said, though she added that once hot spots are identified, the Health Department won’t simply cease proactive efforts to keep other properties and lands pollutant-free.

At the same time, “we’re not looking for every nitpick-y thing,” she said.

Similar projects around the county have proven successful in the past and most property owners have been cooperative.

“Our property owners here care about water quality,” said Leslie Banigan, pollution identification and correction program coordi-nator with the water quality program. “If they know there’s a problem, they fix it.”

Tucker and other residents, however, remained cautious.

“Overall, all of us are concerned about quality of water on Erlands Point ... (but) realistically, we have to pay for this,” he said, referring to the fact that septic systems are ultimately paid for and maintained by property owners without any help from the county.

Tucker suggested that a modern sewer system could be the silver bullet for pollution on Erlands Point.

“We all would like a functioning sewer system,” he said. “That’s the thing that would solve all our problems.”

Fohn countered that sewer systems “don’t come quick” and usually come down to questions of finance that aren’t under the Health District’s jurisdiction anyway.

Health District officials plan to begin their door-to-door operations on Monday. Shoreline tests won’t likely start until sometime in February and the entire project could last as long as a couple of years.

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