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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.

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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.

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