Streets get torn up beginning Monday for new sewer line

Get a tall glass of water. This is going to be a big pill to swallow.

Beginning Monday, the town’s contractor will begin digging up Front Street to the traffic turnaround, and ferry lanes 1 and 2 to First Street to Court Street to Second Street to Culver Street to install a new sewer line.

Work hours: Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Where the contractor hits rock, he’ll blast.

Employees at Cannery Landing will have to find a different place to park for a while; getting deliveries to those shops will require some footwork. Residents of the condos will have to find a new place to park as well.

What will it be like to drive in the construction area? Think Guard Street. You’ll depend on flaggers to get you around equipment and workers.

The good news? It won’t take as long as originally thought to swallow this pill. The project was originally scheduled to end in spring; the contractor expects to finish up around Nov. 17. Gone will be an aged, decaying, leaky cast-iron underwater sewer line in the harbor; all waterfront properties that formerly depended on that line will now drain and flush into a new line upland.

More good news: The town’s engineer estimated that the project would cost $5.1 million; the winning bid came in at $3.5 million.

Still, that pill will have an aftertaste: The $3.5 million project will boost sewer rates from $79.64 to $87.81 a month.

“We will do our best to minimize any utility interruptions and try to notify (residents) in advance of any loss of service,” Mayor David F. Jones said in a press release. “As with any major utility replacement project, the streets will be congested with equipment and materials, but access to your homes and businesses will be maintained. There will be times, however, when you will be asked to wait while ditches are being filled or equipment moved.”

Debbie Pigman, executive director of the San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce, is acting as the business community’s liaison, according to the town. She will provide construction updates and schedule information related to the project in her e-mail blasts and at chamber meetings.

The leaky sewer pipe was a headache for the town. Rusted sections of pipe frequently broke, which resulted in sewage leaking into the harbor or salt water being sucked into the system, affecting wastewater treatment. Puget Soundkeeper Alliance threatened to sue the town for violating the Clean Water Act because treated wastewater discharges didn’t meet state standards, particularly after a break in the line.

The state Department of Ecology agreed to help fund the sewer line replacement with grants and low-interest loans, with the proviso that the sewer line be moved out of the water.

Only a small portion of the new pipe is underwater, serving the homes on Warbass Way. It comes inland at the Cannery Landing parking lot. Waterfront businesses on Front Street will drain and flush into a new line on Front Street.

Much of the waterside work began in March, so the project has been largely unnoticed by landlubbers. Come Monday, that changes.

Town Administrator King Fitch’s advice: “Patience. Slow. Minimize your trips if possible. We’ll get you through, but it’s going to be rough in the meantime.”

Another idea: Walk, don’t drive, when you can. “It’s good for your health,” he said.

Nate Herring of San Juan Coffee Roasting Co. said he and other Cannery Landing business owners and employees will park their vehicles in Lot C and walk to work from there.

“We still haven’t figured out how we’re going to get things delivered down here, and probably people will have to go up top here and sort of stage things and bring them down to the businesses,” he said.

How can he make the experience easier for his customers?

“We haven’t really quite figured that out yet,” he said. “We’re thinking keeping the doors open, maybe extending our business hours to be a little bit more accommodating for the people that have to take the time to park uptown and walk all the way down here. We realize it’s longer … We have to sort of play it by ear. There’s not much we can actually do at this point.”