The Post Point waste management system's controversial anaerobic digester will move forward following a unanimous vote by Bellingham City Council Monday night.
The Fairhaven treatment plant processes all of the sewage waste in Bellingham and is long overdue for upgrades and repairs.
The $275 million upgrade project will replace the facility’s failing incinerators with anaerobic digesters to break down dewatered sewage sludge into nutrient-rich “biosolids.”
The high price tag caused some concern for council members, but representatives from the city encouraged them to look at the bigger picture.
“The project is our entire solids handling system,” Bellingham Public Works Director Eric Johnston said. “It’s not simply the digester tanks themselves, but it’s all of the ancillary systems that lead to the use of those digester tanks, which can include the piping to get it from one place of the plant to the other.”
To add anaerobic digesters to the waste management system, the city will need to construct new buildings and pipelines and include brand-new facilities for the process to work.
Initially, the city hoped to sell the biosolids off to companies to convert into fertilizer for gardens and industrial agricultural sites, but concerns regarding “PFAS,” or perfluoralkyl and polyfluoralkyl substances, rose significantly after the proposal went public.
PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” are manufactured chemicals that come from everyday products, like cleaning solutions or over-the-counter medications.
The city is no longer seriously exploring biosolids as a fertilizer, but the end product is still under consideration. Part of the proposal made during Monday’s Committee of the Whole discussion included additional evaluation processes for biosolid disposal, as well as possible opportunities for public comment.
According to Johnston’s presentation in early April, consumers should expect to see significant rate increases starting in 2023.
Council member Skip Williams made the initial motion to move the process forward, and did so because of the opportunity for additional research and public involvement.
“You can’t presuppose what the outcome of the process is going to be,” Williams said. “We cannot presuppose the cost, or anything, or what they’re [the public] going to say or not going to say; we have to have the confidence in this process that it’s going to give us the right answer. That’s why I made the motion.”
Council member Michael Lilliquist agreed.
“Like Skip, I believe more information and more perspectives is going to be useful,” he said.