Illahee/Oyehut sewer project finally breaks ground

Decades of discussions, plans and agreements finally turned to official groundbreaking last week as development began on the Illahee/Oyehut Sewer project that will connect to the Ocean Shores wastewater system and be administered by Grays Harbor County.

County Commissioners Vickie Raines and Frank Gordon along with key county staff members and Ocean Shores City Council members Gordon Broadbent and John Lynn were on hand Aug. 9 for a ceremonial first shovel event on Damon Road that occurred as construction already was under way only a block away.

“Forty-eight years that this has been talked about,” Raines noted.

Discussion on providing service to the area dates back to the late 1960s and to a sewer construction and operations contract with the county that began in 1971.

The project includes the design and construction of a centralized wastewater collection system to eliminate approximately 130 failing on-site sewage systems in the unincorporated area north of the city of Ocean Shores referred to as Illahee/Oyehut. The project is designed to eliminate the discharge of poorly treated and untreated sewage, protecting the Oyehut Creek and the surrounding area, according to the county.

On June 20, Rognlins Inc. was awarded the contract with a bid of $2.9 million to construct the sewer system that will service more than 110 residents in the Illahee/Oyehut area.

A grant from the state Department of Ecology will fund a bulk of the $2.9 million price tag. The county also received an $800,000 loan from Ecology to cover the remaining costs.

The county originally planned to complete the project in October, but several delays have now pushed back the completion date.

Last week, work was ongoing to build the first pump station vault. Raines and Gordon expressed hopes the sewer system will help improve water quality in the area and eventually lead to the lifting of an ongoing ban on shellfish harvesting off the Illahee/Oyehut Damon Road beach approach.

Raines said she met recently with the Quinault Indian Nation to discuss how that area might “rejuvenate itself to where people can clam dig again.”

Project engineer Mike Olden of Gibbs &Olson said there has been a 99 percent success rate in getting residents and property owners to participate in the new sewer system. With an initial delay, construction is scheduled to last into December, with the first hookups scheduled to begin in October, Olden said.

“Actually, it’s gone pretty well. Probably the biggest surprise we have found is that we have to have a full-time archaeologist on site,” Olden noted.

That’s in case some of the excavation work uncovers possible Indian artifacts or burial sites.

“They just want to take precautions,” Raines said. “Rognlins has been great to work with so far and we have county staff out there as well.”

Others along for the ground-breaking ceremony were County Public Service Director Joe Scott, County Public Facilities Deputy Director Mark Cox and County Waterwater Treatment’s Kevin McManus.

Olden noted he had recently discussed the project with someone whose family owned one of the first cabins in the area.

“Her father kept saying the sewer was going to get here, and he passed away 10 or 15 years ago,” he said.

“Some of the property has been handed down for years, and people haven’t been able to improve it, they can’t build upon it and they can’t sell it because they don’t have the ability to do so without sewer,” Raines added. “We’re fortunate though to be able to secure funding through the Department of Ecology.”

With the project now a reality, Raines said, the county also will be reimbursing the city of Ocean Shores for the $100,000 it paid for an initial engineering consultant study that was a part of the initial agreement on the system.

The $100,000 will be collected as part of the hookup fee, and the county officials said it would be paid to the city under one itemized bill.