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Originally published Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 3:57 PM

Lance Dickie / Seattle Times editorial columnist

Brightwater sewage-treatment plant more than a passing fancy

The Brightwater sewage-treatment plant represents a public investment in the options and opportunities for private growth in the regional economy, a basic service ready to support more people, homes and businesses.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

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Completion of the Brightwater sewage-treatment plant is a dazzling achievement for the environment and the long-term economic vitality of the region.

The opening of the facility north of Woodinville is a testament to the vision, tenacity and talents of elected King County officials, employees and citizens who recognized the need, and the contractors who designed and built it.

Gushing about a $1.8 billion water closet for processing human waste might seem a bit excessive, but Brightwater is the kind of investment in public infrastructure the whole country needs to be making.

The plant is operating in 2011. Groundbreaking was in 2006. Discussions about a sewage-treatment plant for the north end began in 1991. This stuff takes time and leadership. County executives Gary Locke and Ron Sims stepped up.

Pre-merger Metro study groups pointed to the need to extend the life of existing facilities in Renton, find a location to serve north King County and south Snohomish County, and relieve northern and east side interceptors.

Sims issued a draft plan in 1997. The Metropolitan King County Council batted the topic around for 19 months with regional water-policy committees, before approval in December 1999.

As I recall, a fiscally conservative, anti-government group, the Chamber Pot Society, proposed a voter initiative to restrict the use of bathrooms. Not only would that save money, they believed, they argued the revolution had been fought by irregular forces.

Of course the initiative failed. It contained two subjects, No. 1 and No. 2, and limiting the use of toilets violated the human constitution. Something like that.

The 114-acre treatment plant site straddles the urban-growth boundary. The northerly 70 acres of recycled, reclaimed land is lush with native plants and trees, water features, stream corridors and havens for returning salmon. Trails welcome cyclists and walkers. A true community amenity.

A three-hour tour of the plant site reveals a marvel of planning, design, engineering and leading-edge technology. Only about a third of the plant is above ground. Moreover, landscaping and berms along Highway 9 keep the exposed bits pretty much out of sight.

As I followed General Manager Ron Kohler through the, aah, bowels of Brightwater as he explained the phases of treatment regimens and layers of odor control, I was mindful of something else in all that scrubbing and filtering. A promise kept.

Nearby residents were terrified — not too strong a word — of having a big stinky plant near their homes. A solemn commitment was made to make the plant a good neighbor.

Odor-control processes and air pressures inside the plant are designed to contain and eliminate smells. Brightwater uses membrane bioreactor technology to further clean the final discharge to extraordinary standards before it heads off toward Puget Sound.

Last Saturday, 2,400 people visited Brightwater. Christie True, director of the county's Department of Natural Resources and Parks, heard from grateful neighbors delighted by what they found. She was a good person to thank.

True is one of the unsung people behind the scenes from the start, laboring to make Brightwater work for the best interests of the region. She helped guide the project through those early improbable years, and was promoted ever higher in county management.

Brightwater is a civic necessity that is ready to help the economy grow. Such public investments stir private options and opportunities. Snohomish County, low-profile in the development, is a huge beneficiary.

Plumbed and ready for the future, Brightwater happened.

Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is ldickie@seattletimes.com




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