ANACORTES — Despite voices of opposition outside council chambers Monday night, the Anacortes City Council voted to move an application forward to the county that would expand the city’s long-term growth area and potentially pave the way for one of the largest bottling plants in the country.
The application, made by Tethys Enterprises Inc. on behalf of property owners, requests moving 11.2 acres of county rural reserve land into the Anacortes UGA. If approved through a county process, Anacortes could annex the land, which would allow Tethys to move forward with plans to build a massive bottling plant on the southwest intersection of Stevenson and Reservation roads, south of March Point.
Tethys filed the application with the county’s planning department July 31. Mayor Dean Maxwell signed it without council approval. Maxwell has said he heard about the application on the day it was due to the county and signed it to avoid waiting another year or more before the process could start again.
The application for a UGA expansion included initial plans from Tethys to build a large beverage bottling facility and rail transfer station on 30 acres — including the 11.2 in question — as well as a rail spur to connect with a Burlington Northern Santa Fe main line north of the facility.
A 2010 contract with the city allows Tethys to buy 5 million gallons of city water per day, available through 2050, to bottle. Anacortes currently has rights to 55 million gallons of water per day, and sells 21 million gallons per day to customers.
During Monday night’s meeting, the council voted 6-1 to move the application forward. Councilman Ryan Walters voted against the move, instead voting to table the decision until Dec. 3. Walters said Tethys’ contract with the city gives the company until Dec. 1 to submit a legal description and map of the property where it plans to build. He said before that time, Tethys could provide the City Council with more information about the proposed plant.
Walters said that the City Council can impose conditions on the Tethys facility, such as environmental and traffic mitigation, while it still has a say on the process. Once the process moves to the county, Walters said the city will have few chances to weigh in on the topic.
“I’ll repeat what I said earlier, that the reason to delay this is to keep the ball in our court,” Walters said.
Councilman Bill Turner said Tethys can’t submit detailed building plans until it has secured a site for the plant.
“When you have a project like this and you don’t have a piece of property, you don’t have much,” Turner said. The county process will allow the city and the public to get a better idea of the Tethys proposal, he added.
In a personal interview, Anacortes Public Works Director Fred Buckenmeyer said the city included safeguards within its contract with Tethys that will keep the company from exporting containers of water larger than 10 gallons, and will have Tethys pay for the necessary upgrades to the city’s water treatment plant for the company’s use.
Buckenmeyer said Tethys will have to submit a permit application for a site, which would include a building permit and site permit that would spell out exact site plans, by Dec. 1, 2014.
Councilwoman Cynthia Richardson said the county process will include a State Environmental Policy Act review, possibly an Environmental Impact Statement from Tethys and public meetings.
Councilman Brian Geer proposed moving the application forward at the meeting, citing a need for manufacturing plants such as Tethys to offer jobs for the area that are in short supply in the many storage facilities currently found in Anacortes’ light manufacturing zone.
While the council prepared to make its decision on expanding the UGA, a group of approximately 115 people who oppose Tethys’ purposed bottling plant gathered around the Municipal Building on Sixth Street before the meeting Monday evening, shouting “Save our Skagit” and waiving signs and a giant salmon puppet.
Opponents say they’re concerned about the availability of water under a contract Tethys signed with the city, salmon habitat and lack of pubic process regarding the proposed bottling facility.
“The river is a delicate resource that shouldn’t be exploited,” Anacortes resident Daniel Reyes said before the meeting. “I’m not for anything that is taking water away from our communities.”