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.”

Poland Spring issue still boiling


It is unfortunate that you have chosen to give former law Professor Orlando Delogu what appears to be the final word on the issue of large water extractions in the town of Wells. He is long on pronouncements and short on insight, with a narrow lens through which he decides what is good for us and what is not.

Equally inappropriate is your headline for his April 27 column, which continues to muddy the issue of water extraction (“There’s no way Poland Spring could have depleted water in Wells”). Continue reading

E-mails point to influence

Opinion, SeacoastOnline, November 19, 2009 2:00 AM

A Nov. 3 vote on water-rights in Wells already is well behind us, but we return to the issue this week with a story on communications between Poland Spring and a handful of town officials.  We stumbled across the story, as we report, after Jason Heft of the Ordinance Review Committee forwarded our way via e-mail a letter to the editor.

The letter stood out because it was signed by Heft but appeared to have been written by Corey Hascall of Barton & Gingold, the public relations firm out of Portland that has represented Poland Spring in its efforts to find new sources of spring water in southern Maine. It came as an attachment to a blank e-mail sent by Heft. The subject line on the attachment, an e-mail that had been forwarded to Heft by Hascall, said simply, “JASON: letter for your review.”

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Poland Spring PR "helping" public officials in Wells

By Steve Bodnar, SeacoastOnline, November 19, 2009

WELLS — Poland Spring’s use of an overt advertising campaign to connect with voters before a widely-debated vote on Election Day wasn’t the only way the company sought support leading into a Nov. 3 referendum, according to records from the Wells Ordinance Review Committee.

The company’s Portland-based public relations firm, Barton & Gingold, also corresponded with town committee members to help bolster support for a large-scale water extraction ordinance that would have regulated any contract in town to withdraw water for bottling purposes, according to municipal e-mails obtained in a Freedom of Access Act request.

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Glossy campaigns sometimes wear thin (editorial)

SeacoastOnline, Opinion, Nov.5, 2009

Like Mayor Bloomberg in New York, who only narrowly held onto his seat Election Day despite spending more than $100 million of his own money on his election campaign, it’s hard not to wonder whether many Wells voters who rejected the proposed water ordinance were just fed up with the slick campaign Poland Spring led this fall.

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After McCloud, Nestle gets a thumpin' in Maine

By Jamilla El-Shafei, organizer Save Our Water, Kennebunk, ME

Another community says NO to Nestle!  Activists in the communities which surround the Branch Brook Aquifer, located in the southern part of the state handily defeated a water extraction ordinance on a referendum vote in the town of Wells.

The ordinance, written under the direction of the Nestle Corporate lawyers, would have opened the door to large scale bottled water extractors. The vote was 3,194 against large scale extraction and 1,420 for, a 69.2% margin!!! This was a stunning defeat for the corporation who was ousted from McCloud, California and in Shapleigh and Newfield, Maine this year. This was convincing testimony that a grassroots  campaign cannot be replaced by slick marketing and Greenwashing.

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Water Fight Moving From City Hall To State House

By Tim Goff, SeacoastOnline, Nov. 4, 2009

WELLS,  ME — Voters in this oceanside community rejected an ordinance that would have allowed large-scale water extraction in their town.  The measure was defeated by a margin of better than 2 to 1 – with 1420 voting in favor and 3194 voting against the proposed ordinance.

“As the global water scarcity crisis gets worse, groundwater is going to be more and more important,” said Jamilla El-Shafie, co-founder of Save Our Water.  “We want to assure that this water is here for us for local control, under local control.”

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Wells (ME) voters reject water extraction

By Steve Bodnar, SeacoastOnline, November 4, 2009

Residents on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a large-scale water extraction ordinance despite efforts by Poland Spring and some selectmen to encourage supporting it.

After months of debate, the proposal — which would have both permitted and regulated large-scale water extraction operations — was defeated at Wells High School in a 3,199 to 1,422 vote.

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Water debate rages (Wells, ME)

By Steve Bodnar, Seacoast Online,  October 22, 2009

Allegations about scare tactics and blurred facts were rife during a crowded Oct. 20 Board of Selectmen public hearing on an ordinance proposal that would regulate how a company such as Poland Spring could use water in town.

Proponents of the ordinance alleged activists have spread hype about the ramifications of large-scale water extraction, while the opposition argued that ordinance supporters have mislead the public on the ordinance in general.

I’m mad as hell,” said Jamilla El-Shafei, a water-rights activist from Kennebunk, who alleged that phone calls were made Oct. 20 to Wells residents telling them that if they wanted to reject the ordinance they should vote “yes,” when in fact a “no” vote would oppose it.

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Water activist warns against allowing Nestle in (Wells, ME)

By Steve Bodnar, SeacoastOnline

Nestle Waters North America, parent company of Poland Spring, was in the crossfire at a crowded Oct. 22 presentation at the Wells Activity Center, just 12 days before a local vote that could affect how the company is able to conduct business in town.

Hosted by local water-rights activists and attended by more than 50 people, the presentation detailed the legal battle between a Michigan water-rights group and Nestle.  That battle was eventually settled in July 2009, after years in court.

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