Federal spending bill includes funding for Oak Harbor projects

— Created January 4, 2023 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

The omnibus spending package signed into law last week by President Joe Biden includes more than $31 million for 15 projects in our state’s second district, two of them in Oak Harbor. Rep. Rick Larsen (WA-02) secured the funding for projects identified as critical by local leaders and stakeholders.


Larsen secured $1,950,000 for the City of Oak Harbor’s Inflow and Infiltration (I&I) Correction Program, which will basically help the city repair leaks and cracks in older sanitary sewer lines, preventing uncontaminated water, such as ground and surface water, from entering the pipes and causing uncontaminated water to enter the wastewater treatment plant.

“It can cause unnecessary treatment of uncontaminated water entering the Clean Water Facility (CWF), creating additional costs and a potential of exceeding capacity or taking capacity away in future years for new homes or businesses,” explained Oak Harbor Public Works Director, Steve Schuller.

The issue is unrelated to the new wastewater treatment plant and is the result of aging infrastructure.

“In the historic portions of the city, similar to cities throughout the country, the sewer pipes are older,” Schuller described. “Water (surface and groundwater) is able to flow into the pipes, especially through joints between sections of pipe. Most pipe sections are only about 20 feet long, so even in a single block (400 feet long), there can be 20 joints. This is the normal aging process.”

The overriding concern with I&I is the cost impact of having to treat uncontaminated water and the risk of exceeding the plant’s capacity. When capacity is exceeded, there is a risk of releasing untreated effluent into the harbor.

Schuller said the clean water facility has capacity for existing and future customers, as long as the I&I Correction Program moves forward. In terms of helping with costs, the Oak Harbor City Council recently approved new System Development Charges that are paid when a new home or business is built. Charges to new development have been minimal thus far, but the new SDC will take effect this summer and will be phased in over five years.

“If the I&I stormwater is not removed, then the city could run out of treatment capacity in the distant future,” said Schuller. “With new development the city receives over the next one or two decades, new system development charges will be used to pay future debt payments for the new CWF. That will reduce the rates that existing customers would otherwise have to pay. Utilities is about long-term planning. In my career, this is something that is very complex for the community to understand.”

Schuller said the city is unsure when it will receive the money and begin work on the I&I Correction Program.

“The next step is for the federal government to contact the city,” he said. “We do not know when the federal agency will contact us to create and sign an agreement. We will know more details on schedule, costs, and scope details after that process begins.”


Habitat for Humanity of Island County is the other local recipient of federal funds. Larsen secured $2 million for the nonprofit organization to purchase its current leased space on Pioneer Way, eliminating $10,000 a month in lease fees, according a press release.

“Providing shelter by selling safe, decent, and affordable homes has been our mission for more than 20 years, and we know well what the impact is when a family is blessed with the stability and security of owning their own home,” said HFHIC CEO Oran Kolaitis. “This incredible investment, which allows us to purchase our retail store, warehouse and office building in Oak Harbor, will provide our organization that same stability, enabling us to create an even greater impact in our community for many more years.”

Kolaitis said he anticipates this move will help grow job opportunities, increase new home construction for the Island’s workforce and help expand critical home repair programs for seniors, veterans and vulnerable homeowners in the community.