Tethys’ Pullout of Bottling Plant Draws Mixed Response

Anacortes American
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Tethys’ pullout draws mixed response
BY KIMBERLY JACOBSON

Reactions are mixed to the announcement last week that Tethys Enterprises backed out of its plans for a bottling facility on the island.

Some residents were pleased the proposed 1-million-square-foot plant is off the table while others are lamenting the potential jobs lost. But all are looking to the future and how Anacortes could plan to best utilize the property — and how to attract a business that more people can get behind and support.

In a letter sent to Mayor Dean Maxwell last week, Tethys CEO Steve Winter said the project was viable, but the company and its principals had other opportunities come up over time. They opted to halt their efforts on the bottling plant project.

Tethys has worked on the project for several years and signed a water contract with the city in late 2010.

Winter has not answered requests for further comment.

Sandra Spargo, who organized Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin, said she’s received about 200 emails since the announcement last week.

“I am getting a lot of emails from people who are happy about this,” she said. “I am relieved but cautiously relieved because I don’t know what this means.”

She has heard from residents who still have questions: Can Tethys sell the water contract to another company? Has Tethys reimbursed the city for all expenses? Will the city still pursue the urban growth area expansion request?

Mayor Dean Maxwell said the contract is “dead.” In order to transfer water rights, Tethys would have to make a request and it would have to be OK’d by the City Council. He said there’s been no request. He said a new company couldn’t meet deadlines built into the contract anyway.

“It’s just not going to happen,” he said.

Tethys has one more small payment to the city to reimburse it for all expenses, Maxwell said.

He said the city will discuss the UGA expansion request after the November election. It could be rolled into the city’s 2016 comprehensive plan update — but that’s up to the City Council.

“There’s no urgency now,” Maxwell said.

City Council member Ryan Walters said he’d like the city to send a letter to Tethys thanking them for their time and indicating the contract is terminated because they say they will not fulfill their side.

“I think we need to clean that up,” he said.

Walters said he wasn’t surprised Tethys backed out. He said the idea didn’t seem conceivable. The plant was proposed to be the largest in the country, but Tethys hadn’t bottled beverages before and it didn’t appear to have any real assets, he said.

“It didn’t really strike me as a very serious effort,” Walters said.

Peggy Flynn, who met Winter in an MBA program in 1986, introduced him at some of the community events he attended.

She said Anacortes has lost the economic benefits of a construction project that would have hired 250 workers and spent $500 million to build the facility as well as the potential for a significant number of well-paying jobs.

“We’ve lost what would have been the most environmentally and technologically advanced beverage manufacturing plant in the world,” Flynn said — citing plans for biodegradable and recyclable packaging materials, reduced and recycled wastewater, and the use of rail instead of trucks.

She said the good news is that Anacortes still has water rights and can look for other economic opportunities going forward.

Spargo said now is the time for a community discussion.

“I think this is an opportunity for the community to come together and give their vision of what they would like to see out there as possibilities,” she said. “We need a plan. We need a plan for all our city.”

She sees the grassroots Defending Water group continuing to have a voice in the process.

Walters said he’d like to see the city continue to explore the current comprehensive plan proposal that would limit the size of facilities on industrial property.

“If something is going to be massive, 1 million square feet, then we need to look at it and it needs to be not outright allowed,” he said.

The approval process wouldn’t have to take long, he said. As it is now, a massive facility could come in for a building permit with environmental review, but without council consultation. He said in the future water shouldn’t be the focus.

“When we look at economic development look for industries that provide good jobs — not industries that use water,” Walters said.

Tethys timeline

• April 2008 — Tethys Enterprises is formed.

• April 12, 2010 — Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, in a letter to Tethys CEO Steve Winter, says the city will discontinue any further work on the proposed agreement to build a bottling plant there. He cited a concern that Tethys refused to link water provided to the number of jobs created.

• Sept. 13, 2010 — The Anacortes City Council approves a contract to provide up to 5 million gallons of water a day to Tethys. The contract, dated Oct. 1, 2010, requires the company to provide a legal description and map of property for the development. It must be at least 30 acres, served by rail and within the city limits.

• October 2010 — Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin was formed as a “grass-roots educational influence to promote citizen input regarding the contract signed between the City of Anacortes and Tethys Enterprises.” It is associated with the Alliance for Democracy.

• Sept. 26, 2011 — The City Council approves a contract extension, requiring Tethys to find property by Dec. 1, 2012.

• July 31, 2012 — The City of Anacortes requests adding about 11 acres off Highway 20 near Stevenson Road to its urban growth area. The site was being eyed for Tethys. At the time, Mayor Dean Maxwell said the city will benefit from the added industrial property no matter what ends up there.

• Oct. 10, 2012 — The county requests more information from the city about its UGA request.

• Nov. 29, 2012 — Tethys gets title commitments for 30.33 acres of property at Highway 20 and Reservation Road near Stevenson Road. At the time, Winter told the American the 30.33-acre site was just part of the plan. It also proposed to use about 11 acres the city requested to be added to its urban growth area and, at the time, Tethys was in discussion with other property owners.

According to the contract, Tethys then had two years to complete the necessary studies and apply for permits. The plant was required to be up and running by June 1, 2018, according to the contract.

• April 9, 2013 — Skagit County commissioners hold a public hearing on the city’s UGA expansion request. Speakers brought up issues including traffic concerns, the size of the proposed Tethys plant, the city infrastructure to support any amount of acreage outside the presently designated city limits and the Tethys project being out of scale for the site and nearby communities.

• July 10, 2013 — Skagit County commissioners voted unanimously to docket the City of Anacortes UGA expansion request, allowing the review process to continue. An environmental review process was the next step.

• Sept. 10, 2013 — The city announces Tethys has backed out of its proposal.

Anacortes mayor’s debate focuses on proposed Tethys bottling plant

Skagit Valley Herald
Mount Vernon, Wash.

Friday, July 12, 2013


ANACORTES MAYOR


Anacortes mayor’s debate focuses on jobs, Tethys 

By MARK STAYTON 

ANACORTES — The four candidates for Anacortes’ mayoral seat offered their views on strategic planning, economic development and the Tethys water bottling plant proposal Thursday afternoon during their second debate leading up to the Aug. 6 primary election.

Hosted by the Anacortes Chamber of Commerce, the debate focused largely on how candidates Brian Geer, Mitch Everton, Laurie Gere and Mayor Dean Maxwell plan to bolster the local economy and bring living‑wage jobs to Anacortes.

A rift emerged between candidates on what has become the largest issue of the election: The proposal by Tethys Enterprises to build a 1-million-square-foot beverage bottling plant south of March Point.

Maxwell has received some criticism of how he handled the Tethys proposal.

Without public input, the Anacortes City Council in 2010 agreed to a contract with the company to provide it 5 million gallons of water per day from the Skagit River through 2050. Anacortes has rights to 55 million gallons of water per day and currently uses approximately 21 million gallons per day.

Tethys

“Tethys was terrible policy,” candidate Mitch Everton said when asked about the proposal during the debate.

“To tell the community that their input is inappropriate to me is just wrong,” Everton said. Everton said his support for the Tethys proposal rests on how many living‑wage jobs the plant can support.

He said Tethys hasn’t yet provided enough information on the plant to make an informed judgment about whether it will benefit the community. But he said the process is likely past the stage where citizens will have any meaningful effect on its outcome.

“Our mayor unilaterally thought Tethys was a good idea for Anacortes, and that’s why it’s coming here,” Everton said.

At an Anacortes Chamber of Commerce meeting last September, Tethys CEO Steve Winter said the plant would provide at least 540 jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the national average salary for beverage manufacturing workers at $40,250 annually, though Winter said that salary would be slightly higher in the Pacific Northwest.

Gere said one of the city’s failures regarding the Tethys proposal was that no strategic plan existed to determine whether the plant would provide what the community wanted or needed before it came to Anacortes.

Like Everton, she raised concerns about the plant’s possible environmental effects and how additional trains could affect traffic. She said the lack of communication between City Hall and citizens also is problematic.

“It’s not that it’s a good or bad idea; it’s that we were never asked,” Gere said.

Maxwell defended his actions in helping bring the Tethys proposal to Anacortes by saying that the city’s municipal utility has an obligation to provide water to businesses that locate there. He said the contract was put in place to make sure the company sets up a local manufacturing facility instead of transporting the water elsewhere.

Maxwell acts as mayor, city administrator and head of the city’s water utility.

He said he took the opportunity when it was presented and is looking toward further environmental and project reviews for the company to make more specific plans about the plant known.

“It’s six miles out of town. It’s in the perfect place. You’ll never see it … ” Maxwell said. “It is our future.”

Geer, who has served as an Anacortes city councilman for eight years, said he has supported the Tethys proposal since the beginning because it would provide living-wage jobs.

“If we want to move forward and have family-wage jobs, we have to have facilities to support it. And those facilities require truck and rail traffic,” Geer said.

He agreed with Maxwell that the city has an obligation to provide water to businesses that locate there.

Geer said he voted to move the process forward to get a better idea of what was being proposed.

Economic development plans 

Other questions at the debate focused on how candidates will support the creation of family-wage jobs in Anacortes and how larger economic development plans would be structured.

Everton said the first step is to develop a strategic plan that includes the community’s vision for desired industries and development, a road map and goals and strategies needed to achieve a successful outcome. He said his focus is to target entrepreneurial CEOs in those industries, streamline the business approval processes and consider forming an economic development organization.

Gere said she wants to form a two-part marketing strategy for the city; one is an individual or firm actively seeking new businesses to locate there, while another is installed in City Hall, making the transition to Anacortes as easy as possible.

She said she wants to emphasize Anacortes strengths by expanding development in health care, information technology and marine manufacturing.

Like the other challengers, Geer said a strategic vision for the city is needed first.

The Port of Anacortes already is working in economic development, and the Chamber of Commerce is doing a good job bringing business to the city, he said. Broader community development would help leverage the city’s current assets.

Maxwell said over the past 19 years he’s been mayor, incremental improvements to infrastructure — including a new library, police station and water treatment plant — have provided a good basis for economic development. He said taxes from the refineries have supported schools and police and fire departments, while extremely low property taxes have provided incentive for businesses to locate here.

Ballots for the primary election go out to voters on July 17, and the primary election is held Aug. 6. The two top candidates will then square off in the general election Nov. 5.

 

Skagit County Advances Tethys Bottling Plant

Skagit Valley Herald, Mount Vernon, Wash.
Wed., July 30, 2013

Anacortes land expansion to be reviewed

By KATE MARTIN

MOUNT VERNON — Anacortes’ proposal to expand its city boundaries to accommodate a beverage bottling plant has passed one of several administrative hurdles, despite reservations by one county commissioner.
Skagit County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to review the city of Anacortes’ proposal, which includes incorporating and rezoning 11.2 acres southwest of the intersection of Reservation and Stevenson roads into the city’s long-term growth area. In return, the city would redesignate 16.6 acres of city industrial-zoned land on the southern shore of Fidalgo Bay for public use.

The proposed land-use change could make way for Tethys Enterprises Inc. to build a massive bottling plant on the land and surrounding urban growth area.

image004

The bottling plant would eventually reach 1 million square feet, according to CEO Steve Winter, and make all manner of beverages. Tethys has a contract with the city for 5 million gallons of water per day — the same amount the Tesoro Refinery uses.

But the proposal has sparked controversy, with opponents saying the city is squandering a public resource — water — for corporate interests. Some have concerns about the way the city handled the process of signing a contract with Tethys that would provide the city-owned water.

Supporters of the proposal, including the city’s Chamber of Commerce, say it would provide much-needed jobs for Skagit County residents.

Skagit County’s planning department received nearly 400 pages of comments from 174 residents by early May about the proposal.

County commissioners held a public hearing on the land-use change in April, where questions were raised about the legality of the process. Commissioners decided to have attorneys review the legal and procedural concerns of the proposal before making a decision about how to move forward.

Commissioners hired Seattle firm Gordon Derr because of the complexity of the case and to alleviate community concerns about conflicts of interest.

An issue that arose was whether the city was required to submit project-specific plans to the county or if the county would evaluate the proposal only on the request to rezone land for industrial use.

A memo to commissioners last month from Jay Derr, the contracted legal counsel on the issue, says it is appropriate for commissioners to review project-specific components of the proposal. A review may consider the city’s “population allocation and commensurate employment needs to support the UGA application,” the memo states.

Derr told commissioners they can request more information about the project. But moving forward, the commissioners might want to bring up impacts to water resources and rail traffic, he said.

“You know enough about the specific plans and the future for this site that those project-specific issues should be addressed as part of the environmental review,” Derr told commissioners Tuesday.

Commissioner Sharon Dillon seemed torn and asked Derr if the county could require the official in charge of the State Environmental Policy Act review to do a stringent Environmental Impact Statement analysis, instead of the less rigorous Mitigated Determination of Nonsignificance.

Derr said a MDNS is not a “minor effort” and would require the applicant to address and mitigate for environmental impacts.

Dillon said she believes the city should ask for the land designation change in 2015, when the county issues its full comprehensive plan update. Nevertheless, she said, “we might as well deal with it this year.”

The county had several options: Move the request forward, deny the request or delay it until the county’s next comprehensive update.

When commissioners voted unanimously to move the request forward, Dillon winced as she cast her vote.

The land designation change is the first of many steps that must be taken, according to Planning and Development Services Director Dale Pernula.

Next, the county and city will negotiate an agreement on the SEPA process, costs and responsibilities. The issue will eventually be held in a public meeting in front of the county Planning Commission. It could take many months before that happens.

Salmon Estuary would be next to largest bottling plant operation in North America

Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin

By Sandra Spargo

DSCN4671

  • Turners Bay Salmon Pocket Estuary

In 2009, a $671,000 grant was spent to restore the Turners Bay Salmon Pocket Estuary. Chinook salmon now have access to a nearly 60-acre tidal channel lagoon and marsh complex. The lagoon is located at the northeast end of Similk Bay, in the Whidbey Basin of Puget Sound, one of 12 pocket estuaries that had been identified as a high priority restoration site in the Chinook Recovery Plan, part of the Puget Sound Shared Strategy.

According to Skagit County Planning and Development Services,

“While the [Anacortes] petition application references the construction of [Tethys Enterprises, Inc.] beverage bottling plant, this specific project, or another, and their potential impacts or merits are not within the scope of the County’s review.”

Thus, citizens are forced to object to an urban growth area (UGA) petition that would eventually allow Anacortes to rezone the 11.15 acres to light manufacturing next to Turners Bay Salmon Pocket Estuary, because any manufacturing—especially North America’s largest bottling plant operation—could pollute the lagoon.

In the Anacortes American of Dec. 5, 2012, Tethys CEO Steve Winter stated, “We definitely plan to use the property in the UGA expansion. It could be used for anything. It could be used for rail transportation staging or it could be used for the [one million square foot] building.”

Cleared old railbed from road

  • The old rail-right-of-way behind the yellow fire hydrant. The Turners Bay Salmon Pocket Estuary is a stone’s throw from the old rail right-of-way that would be rebuilt.

An old rail-right-of-way would need rebuilding and is located at the intersection of Reservation Road and Stevenson Road. Its clearing has grown over, but the yellow hydrant marks the spot. How would storm water runoff and train and truck oil drippings be managed away from the close-by estuary?

Moreover, the rainy season couples with high tides to produce high water levels in the lagoon.  Data collection in the Whidbey Basin indicate that juvenile salmon displaced from Skagit River delta habitat as a result of flood events could reach the lagoon site in as little as five or six hours.

GROWTH MANAGEMENT ACT STEERING COMMITTEE

The Growth Management Act Steering Committee is comprised of representation as follows:

  • City of Anacortes
  • City of Burlington
  • City of Mount Vernon
  • City of Sedro Woolley
  • Port of Anacortes
  • Port of Skagit
  • Swinomish Tribal Community
  • Samish Indian Nation
  • Skagit County
  • Skagit Transit
  • Town of Concrete
  • Town of La Conner

 

Salmon Estuary would be next to largest bottling plant operation in North America

Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin

By Sandra Spargo

DSCN4671

  • Turners Bay Salmon Pocket Estuary

In 2009, a $671,000 grant was spent to restore the Turners Bay Salmon Pocket Estuary. Chinook salmon now have access to a nearly 60-acre tidal channel lagoon and marsh complex. The lagoon is located at the northeast end of Similk Bay, in the Whidbey Basin of Puget Sound, one of 12 pocket estuaries that had been identified as a high priority restoration site in the Chinook Recovery Plan, part of the Puget Sound Shared Strategy.

According to Skagit County Planning and Development Services,

“While the [Anacortes] petition application references the construction of [Tethys Enterprises, Inc.] beverage bottling plant, this specific project, or another, and their potential impacts or merits are not within the scope of the County’s review.”

Thus, citizens are forced to object to an urban growth area (UGA) petition that would eventually allow Anacortes to rezone the 11.15 acres to light manufacturing next to Turners Bay Salmon Pocket Estuary, because any manufacturing—especially North America’s largest bottling plant operation—could pollute the lagoon.

In the Anacortes American of Dec. 5, 2012, Tethys CEO Steve Winter stated, “We definitely plan to use the property in the UGA expansion. It could be used for anything. It could be used for rail transportation staging or it could be used for the [one million square foot] building.”

How would storm water runoff and train and truck oil drippings be managed away from the close-by estuary?

Moreover, the rainy season couples with high tides to produce high water levels in the lagoon.  Data collection in the Whidbey Basin indicate that juvenile salmon displaced from Skagit River delta habitat as a result of flood events could reach the lagoon site in as little as five or six hours.

GROWTH MANAGEMENT ACT STEERING COMMITTEE

The Growth Management Act Steering Committee is comprised of representation as follows:

  • City of Anacortes
  • City of Burlington
  • City of Mount Vernon
  • City of Sedro Woolley
  • Port of Anacortes
  • Port of Skagit
  • Swinomish Tribal Community
  • Samish Indian Nation
  • Skagit County
  • Skagit Transit
  • Town of Concrete
  • Town of La Conner

 

Salmon Estuary next to largest bottling plant operation in North America

Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin By Sandra Spargo DSCN4671

  • Turners Bay Salmon Pocket Estuary

In 2009, a $671,000 grant was spent to restore the Turners Bay Salmon Pocket Estuary. Chinook salmon now have access to a nearly 60-acre tidal channel lagoon and marsh complex. The estuary is located at the northeast end of Similk Bay, in the Whidbey Basin of Puget Sound, one of 12 pocket estuaries that had been identified as a high priority restoration site in the Chinook Recovery Plan, part of the Puget Sound Shared Strategy. According to Skagit County Planning and Development Services, “While the [Anacortes] petition application references the construction of [Tethys Enterprises, Inc.] beverage bottling plant, this specific project, or another, and their potential impacts or merits are not within the scope of the County’s review.” Thus, citizens are forced to object to an urban growth area (UGA) petition that would eventually allow Anacortes to rezone the 11.15 acres to light manufacturing next to Turners Bay Salmon Pocket Estuary, because any manufacturing—especially North America’s largest bottling plant operation—could pollute the lagoon. In the Anacortes American of Dec. 5, 2012, Tethys CEO Steve Winter stated, “We definitely plan to use the property [11.15 acres] in the UGA expansion. It could be used for anything. It could be used for rail transportation staging or it could be used for the [one million square foot] building.” How would storm water runoff and train and truck oil drippings be managed away from the close-by estuary? Moreover, the rainy season couples with high tides to produce high water levels in the lagoon.  Data collection in the Whidbey Basin indicate that juvenile salmon displaced from Skagit River delta habitat as a result of flood events could reach the lagoon site in as little as five or six hours.

GROWTH MANAGEMENT ACT STEERING COMMITTEE

The Growth Management Act Steering Committee is comprised of representation as follows:

  • City of Anacortes
  • City of Burlington
  • City of Mount Vernon
  • City of Sedro Woolley
  • Port of Anacortes
  • Port of Skagit
  • Swinomish Tribal Community
  • Samish Indian Nation
  • Skagit County
  • Skagit Transit
  • Town of Concrete
  • Town of La Conner

 

Salmon Estuary would be next to largest bottling plant operation in North America

Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin By Sandra Spargo DSCN4671

  • Turners Bay Salmon Pocket Estuary

In 2009, a $671,000 grant was spent to restore the Turners Bay Salmon Pocket Estuary.

Chinook salmon now have access to a nearly 60-acre tidal channel estuary and marsh complex.

The estuary is located at the northeast end of Similk Bay, in the Whidbey Basin of Puget Sound, one of 12 pocket estuaries that had been identified as a high priority restoration site in the Chinook Recovery Plan, part of the Puget Sound Shared Strategy.

According to Skagit County Planning and Development Services, “While the [Anacortes] petition application references the construction of [Tethys Enterprises, Inc.] beverage bottling plant, this specific project, or another, and their potential impacts or merits are not within the scope of the County’s review.”

Thus, citizens are forced to object to an urban growth area (UGA) petition that would eventually allow Anacortes to rezone the 11.15 acres to light manufacturing next to Turners Bay Salmon Pocket Estuary, because any manufacturing—especially North America’s largest bottling plant operation—could pollute the lagoon.

In the Anacortes American of Dec. 5, 2012, Tethys CEO Steve Winter stated, “We definitely plan to use the property [11.15 acres] in the UGA expansion. It could be used for anything. It could be used for rail transportation staging or it could be used for the [one-million-square-foot] building.”

How would storm water runoff from a one-million-square-foot building and train and truck oil drippings be managed away from the close-by estuary?

Moreover, the rainy season couples with high tides to produce high water levels in the estuary.  Data collection in the Whidbey Basin indicate that juvenile salmon displaced from Skagit River delta habitat as a result of flood events could reach the lagoon site in as little as five or six hours.

GROWTH MANAGEMENT ACT STEERING COMMITTEE

The Growth Management Act Steering Committee is comprised of representation, including tribal communities, as follows:

  • City of Anacortes
  • City of Burlington
  • City of Mount Vernon
  • City of Sedro Woolley
  • Port of Anacortes
  • Port of Skagit
  • Swinomish Tribal Community
  • Samish Indian Nation
  • Skagit County
  • Skagit Transit
  • Town of Concrete
  • Town of La Conner

 

Defending Water in the Skagit Basin March Newsletter

Defending Water in the Skagit Basin March 2013 Newsletter- click to view PDF

Defending Water in the Skagit Basin March 2013 Newsletter- click to view PDF

Defending Water in the Skagit Basin, an arm of Defending Water in Washington presents this March 2013 newsletter featuring a Tethys Enterprises Beverage Bottling Plant Site Update. We hope this information provides insight to the impact that the plant will have on Fidalgo Island and surrounding Skagit County Communities.

All the best, Sandra Spargo Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin

Click to view, or Right Click + Save As to download:Defending Water in the Skagit Basin Newsletter – March 2013,

Skagit County Suggests Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Dismisses Its [Water]Lawsuit

Sandra Spargo, Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin, Dec. 15, 2012

Please find below an article in the Skagit Valley Herald that is entitled, County suggests Swinomish dismiss its lawsuit. The Swinomish lawsuit (supported by the City of Anacortes without citizen input), if successful, could lead to all rural and agricultural landowners in the Skagit River Basin losing access to well water if they had drilled their well in 2001 or after, Ecology officials have said.

Moreover, if the Wash. State Supreme Court rules in favor of the Swinomish, Skagit River Basin owners of about 5,700 buildable lots–on which at least 400 homeowners have already built homes–could lose access to their well water for residential use.

The link of Skagit County’s letter of Dec. 14, 2012, to Chairman Brian Cladoosby and the Senate of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community is located at Letter to Swinomish & Anacortes on Dec. 14, 2012.   The link contains the letter’s three supporting documents.

To understand the viewpoint of landowners/homeowners caught up in the contentious water issue over which they have no input, visit the Just Water Alliance website at http://justwateralliance.org.

Do the citizens of Anacortes want the City to support the Swinomish lawsuit against the the Dept. of Ecology that could result in at least 400 homeowners losing their well water for residential use, possibly their homes? For a history of Anacortes’ involvement with Swinomish lawsuits, see the legal section of the City of Anacortes website at http://www.cityofanacortes.org/Legal/WaterRightsSwinomish/index.asp.

My opinion is that the City of Anacortes’ nonsupport of a compromise regarding the water issue while it promotes the sale of five million gallons of water per day for Tethys Enterprises’ proposed bottling plant makes Anacortes a lousy neighbor. Tethys’ would be the largest bottling plant in North America.

County suggests Swinomish dismiss its lawsuit

By Kate Martin | Posted: Saturday, December 15, 2012 1:00 am

MOUNT VERNON — Skagit County commissioners say they will rejoin a 1996 water agreement if the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community drops its lawsuit against the state Department of Ecology.

The tribe’s lawsuit is currently being reviewed by the state Supreme Court. If the tribe is successful, it could lead to all rural and agricultural landowners in the Skagit River basin losing access to well water if they drilled their well in 2001 or after, Ecology officials have said.

The letter, sent Friday, is in response to those sent last week by Anacortes and the Swinomish. Those letters in turn were in response to a November letter by commissioners, which announced the county had left the 1996 Memorandum of Agreement, which outlined a historic water agreement in the valley.

Commissioners also asserted that they had left the agreement because the Swinomish and Anacortes broke that agreement by suing Ecology to invalidate a 2006 state rule amendment that allows more water for rural and agricultural users. The original rule amendment, from 2001, provided no new water at all for rural landowners or for agricultural uses, the county states.

The commissioners’ letter outlined a path to where the county could rejoin the agreement: “You can remedy your ongoing breach by dismissing your pending lawsuit. Until that happens, Skagit County is not a party to the 1996 MOA, and has no further obligations under the 1996 MOA.”

Anacortes Mayor Dean Maxwell said he had not had a chance to read the letter, which was sent at 2 p.m. Commissioners Ken Dahlstedt and Sharon Dillon could not immediately be reached for comment.

Larry Wasserman, environmental services director for the tribe, had little to say about the commissioners’ response.

“The tribe doesn’t believe it is productive to continue to have these debates in the newspaper,” Wasserman said. “Our previous letter speaks for itself, as do the facts on our website. People can look there to find out what the real history has been.”

The commissioners’ letter also says the tribe and city’s ongoing lawsuit “completely undermines the stated purpose of the 1996 MOA” by seeking to eliminate all water for rural landowners and farmers.

The city and tribe both said in their letters that the county was using the same legal process for challenging Ecology’s rule when it sued the agency in 2003 as the tribe used to challenge the rule amendment in 2008.

Skagit County Commissioner Ron Wesen said it’s not the same.

Wesen said the 2003 disagreement the county had with Ecology involved the 2001 instream flow rule because that rule did not include any water for rural agriculture or residences requiring a well.

“What the tribe and Anacortes are saying, ‘We don’t agree with Ecology’s authority to make this change.’ If they don’t have authority to do that, then all exempt wells since 2001” are gone, Wesen said.

The Swinomish contend in their lawsuit that Ecology is using an overly broad definition of a narrowly defined exception to provide water in exceptional circumstances. The Swinomish lost an earlier round in the Thurston County Superior Court in 2010. The state Supreme Court’s ruling could be months from now.

“It’s complicated, but we’ll find out when the Supreme Court makes its ruling who is right,” Wesen said.

Wesen said the MOA and the instream flow rule don’t take into account the fact that water use changes over time. “To say this is the rule we have for 50 years and have no flexibility, it doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Skagit County Suggests Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Dismisses Its [Water]Lawsuit

Sandra Spargo, Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin, Dec. 15, 2012

Please find below an article in the Skagit Valley Herald that is entitled, County suggests Swinomish dismiss its lawsuit. The Swinomish lawsuit (supported by the City of Anacortes without citizen input), if successful, could lead to all rural and agricultural landowners in the Skagit River Basin losing access to well water if they had drilled their well in 2001 or after, Ecology officials have said.

Moreover, if the Wash. State Supreme Court rules in favor of the Swinomish, Skagit River Basin owners of about 5,700 buildable lots–on which at least 400 homeowners have already built homes–could lose access to their well water for residential use.

The link of Skagit County’s letter of Dec. 14, 2012, to Chairman Brian Cladoosby and the Senate of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community is located at Letter to Swinomish & Anacortes on Dec. 14, 2012.   The link contains the letter’s three supporting documents.

To understand the viewpoint of landowners/homeowners caught up in the contentious water issue over which they have no input, visit the Just Water Alliance website at http://justwateralliance.org.

Do the citizens of Anacortes want the City to support the Swinomish lawsuit against the the Dept. of Ecology that could result in at least 400 homeowners losing their well water for residential use, possibly their homes? For a history of Anacortes’ involvement with Swinomish lawsuits, see the legal section of the City of Anacortes website at http://www.cityofanacortes.org/Legal/WaterRightsSwinomish/index.asp.

My opinion is that the City of Anacortes’ nonsupport of a compromise regarding the water issue while it promotes the sale of five million gallons of water per day for Tethys Enterprises’ proposed bottling plant makes Anacortes a lousy neighbor. Tethys would be the largest bottling plant in North America.

County suggests Swinomish dismiss its lawsuit

By Kate Martin | Posted: Saturday, December 15, 2012 1:00 am

MOUNT VERNON — Skagit County commissioners say they will rejoin a 1996 water agreement if the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community drops its lawsuit against the state Department of Ecology.

The tribe’s lawsuit is currently being reviewed by the state Supreme Court. If the tribe is successful, it could lead to all rural and agricultural landowners in the Skagit River basin losing access to well water if they drilled their well in 2001 or after, Ecology officials have said.

The letter, sent Friday, is in response to those sent last week by Anacortes and the Swinomish. Those letters in turn were in response to a November letter by commissioners, which announced the county had left the 1996 Memorandum of Agreement, which outlined a historic water agreement in the valley.

Commissioners also asserted that they had left the agreement because the Swinomish and Anacortes broke that agreement by suing Ecology to invalidate a 2006 state rule amendment that allows more water for rural and agricultural users. The original rule amendment, from 2001, provided no new water at all for rural landowners or for agricultural uses, the county states.

The commissioners’ letter outlined a path to where the county could rejoin the agreement: “You can remedy your ongoing breach by dismissing your pending lawsuit. Until that happens, Skagit County is not a party to the 1996 MOA, and has no further obligations under the 1996 MOA.”

Anacortes Mayor Dean Maxwell said he had not had a chance to read the letter, which was sent at 2 p.m. Commissioners Ken Dahlstedt and Sharon Dillon could not immediately be reached for comment.

Larry Wasserman, environmental services director for the tribe, had little to say about the commissioners’ response.

“The tribe doesn’t believe it is productive to continue to have these debates in the newspaper,” Wasserman said. “Our previous letter speaks for itself, as do the facts on our website. People can look there to find out what the real history has been.”

The commissioners’ letter also says the tribe and city’s ongoing lawsuit “completely undermines the stated purpose of the 1996 MOA” by seeking to eliminate all water for rural landowners and farmers.

The city and tribe both said in their letters that the county was using the same legal process for challenging Ecology’s rule when it sued the agency in 2003 as the tribe used to challenge the rule amendment in 2008.

Skagit County Commissioner Ron Wesen said it’s not the same.

Wesen said the 2003 disagreement the county had with Ecology involved the 2001 instream flow rule because that rule did not include any water for rural agriculture or residences requiring a well.

“What the tribe and Anacortes are saying, ‘We don’t agree with Ecology’s authority to make this change.’ If they don’t have authority to do that, then all exempt wells since 2001” are gone, Wesen said.

The Swinomish contend in their lawsuit that Ecology is using an overly broad definition of a narrowly defined exception to provide water in exceptional circumstances. The Swinomish lost an earlier round in the Thurston County Superior Court in 2010. The state Supreme Court’s ruling could be months from now.

“It’s complicated, but we’ll find out when the Supreme Court makes its ruling who is right,” Wesen said.

Wesen said the MOA and the instream flow rule don’t take into account the fact that water use changes over time. “To say this is the rule we have for 50 years and have no flexibility, it doesn’t make any sense to me.”