Overdale Park residents face steep fee to resolve water problems
April 17, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
Overdale Park homeowners could pay about $15,000 per household to change water utility providers — a transition meant to eliminate years-old concerns about arsenic contamination and fire protection.
The hillside neighborhood near the former Albertsons store in North Issaquah is involved in a process to integrate into the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District. The next step is to create a special district for Overdale homeowners to fund $1.1 million in improvements to the aging water infrastructure in the neighborhood.
The decisions to shift Overdale into the district and upgrade infrastructure came after officials discovered arsenic contamination in a well near East Lake Sammamish Parkway. The other Overdale well could no longer meet residents’ demand after decades of use. The neighborhood includes about 140 residences.
So, residents turned to the district for service. The district started providing water to Overdale in 2005 and continues to do so, although the neighborhood water association still handles billing and other functions.
The situation could shift if officials create the special district, or utility local improvement district, in the months ahead. The district scheduled a public hearing on the proposed formation April 23.
In early April, homeowners started to receive letters from the district outlining the costs to form a utility local improvement district — about $8,000 in connection charges and about $7,000 for project costs for homes using a 3/4-inch meter. The connection charges cost more for residents using larger meters.
If the change is approved, homeowners could pay the costs in annual installments.
The change from the neighborhood water association to the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District could also mean lower water rates for Overdale customers.
Overdale residents said the process is overdue. It could mean lower rates, better service and more accountability for water managers.
The arsenic discovery spawned sometimes-contentious discussions about emergency response, public health and property values in the neighborhoods.
“When a system has been in service for a long time — Overdale has been around for quite awhile — they tend to just continue to operate until there’s some sort of instigating factor,” Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District Planning Engineer Jay Regenstreif said.
In Overdale, arsenic contamination started the process.
The arsenic level in the contaminated Overdale well exceeded 11 parts per billion — more than the 10 parts per billion allowed under federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations for arsenic in drinking water. The poisonous element occurs naturally in the ground near the well.
Integration could mean improved safety, rates
The neighborhood also faced a heightened risk from fires. Engineers discovered some fire hydrants in Overdale lacked the pressure to combat blazes.
If a fire occurred in the neighborhood, pressure could have dropped in minutes to unacceptable levels for firefighting.
Eastside Fire & Rescue officials learned about the problem early last year, as the Sammamish district conducted tests in preparation for annexation. The agency then added a water tender — or tanker — to the fire response plan for the neighborhood.
The water district plans to upgrade the Overdale water system to correct the fire hydrant flow problem.
The district completed the initial step to integrate Overdale in May 2011, after King County officials approved the Overdale annexation into the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District.
District officials completed the annexation 11 months ago, but until the integration is completed, Overdale residents continue to pay water bills to the neighborhood water association until the integration effort is complete.
Overall, the district serves more than 16,000 customers in Issaquah, Sammamish and unincorporated King County. The district surrounds Overdale on all sides.
(Beyond the district, Issaquah provides water and sewer service to most city residents, although Bellevue handles the Greenwood Point area along Lake Sammamish.)
Bernadette Anne, a neighborhood resident since December 2007, said the planned integration could bring a needed change to Overdale.
Under the neighborhood water association, most homeowners pay a flat rate of $96 on a bimonthly basis for water. Customers pay additional charges for using more than 2,000 cubic feet of water during a billing cycle.
The district charges customers a fixed base rate and additional charges based on usage. Anne estimates the monthly bill at her home could drop by as much as 50 percent per billing cycle.
District officials increased rates last month.
“Even though that rate increase will affect us, it will still be lower than the rate we are paying today,” Anne said.
Overdale residents could see other changes in the neighborhood.
Construction to upgrade the water system is planned, although the timetable is not yet firm. If the process proceeds, district officials agree to take on the Overdale infrastructure. Then, upgrades could start in the coming months.
The neighborhood water association plans to start disposing of unnecessary property if the integration is completed. The proceeds from such sales could offset the consolidation costs.