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A way to go: Plenty of hurdles left to clear before bottling plant gets off the ground

Skagit Valley Herald, Mount Vernon, Wash.

Posted: Sunday, December 9, 2012 2:05 am | Updated: 10:28 pm, Sat Dec 8, 2012.

By Mark Stayton

At least one crucial deadline has been met.

But developers of a proposed 1 million-square-foot bottled beverage manufacturing plant in Anacortes have plenty of other hoops to jump through before the project gets up and running.

Tethys Enterprises, Inc. met a Dec. 1 deadline to acquire property rights to at least 30 acres within city limits. That deadline was set by the city of Anacortes as part of a contract between Tethys and the city that would move the project forward.

The contract, signed in 2010, states that the city would sell the company 5 million gallons of water through 2035, with the option to extend through 2040, if the company could secure the rights to at least 30 acres of land with rail access within the city limits or an area that could be annexed.

On Nov. 29, the company identified a 30.3-acre parcel on the southwest intersection of Highway 20 and Reservation Road, where Sunland Bark & Topsoils now operates.

Tethys CEO Steve Winter said his company has been in negotiations to secure a suitable piece of land.

“We’re at the end of the beginning,” he said.

Anacortes Public Works Director Fred Buckenmeyer said the company still must meet several other deadlines and requirements before the city can sell water to the plant.

Tethys has two years to submit a building application — including environmental and traffic impact reviews — and the plant must be ready to start production two years after that, Buckenmeyer said. Tethys also will be responsible for upgrading the pumps at the city’s approximately $1 million new water treatment plant, Buckenmeyer said.

Anacortes currently has uninterpretable rights to 55 million gallons of water per day from the Skagit River, of which it uses approximately 21 million gallons.

The project has been controversial since it was proposed two years ago, dividing the city between those who say a new bottling plant could create hundreds of new jobs and become an economic boon, and others who contend the city has no business selling a public resource to a private business.

Critics quickly chided city officials — particularly Mayor Dean Maxwell — for not allowing more public comment about the proposal and the contract before the city agreed to sign it. Some argued that city leaders should have been discussing the proposal more in public.

Several recent City Council meetings were the scene of even more heated discussion over the plant, as Anacortes signed off on a petition to expand the city’s urban growth area — ostensibly to provide land for the plant — without the City Council’s prior approval. Maxwell said signing the application was legal and within his jurisdiction.

For his part, Winter said his proposal represents a new level of efficiency, scale and environmentally friendly practices in the beverage world and would diversify the county’s economy with a recession-resistant industry. He said the project is put forth by local business people who want to capitalize on what the Northwest has to offer.

“We are, you know, local guys who have developed a partnership, that have a commitment to area and have a dream, you know, the typical entrepreneurial dream,” Winter said during a recent interview with the Skagit Valley Herald. “That we saw an opportunity in an industry that was not being filled, with a very creative idea, and we want to pursue that creative idea to fill that market opportunity.”

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