The Merger; Second Thoughts Anyone?Permalink +
Mon, Apr 28, 2008, 8:08 pm // g.h.kirschListening to the discussion of a possible merger between Lake Whatcom Water & Sewer District and Bellingham at City Council this afternoon was like returning to those wild and reckless days of the 1970's, when there were no limits to growth, and no thought to the environment.
Not that this discussion, at least from the city's perspective, is not about protecting the environment, in particular, Lake Whatcom. But listening to Dick McKinley, their able but old school manager of public works, and then Jim Neher, the current manager of the water district, it was like listening to16th century geographers or astronomers who had missed the account of Columbus' voyage, or were yet to read Copernicus.
As the discussion moved along, issues were put forward. What of the city's duty to serve new development? Who will bear the costs of stormwater systems outside the city? Should watershed residents presently without stormwater service be obliged to pay a fee for the same?
It was as though no one else remembered that in the 1990's we passed a Growth Management Act. Or else they felt these laws had no bearing on their considerations.
I was struck by the realization that the city, after their unlawful extension of water out the Guide, still has not entirely accepted the reality that extension of urban services outside of their urban growth areas is contrary to the law.
This whole idea of merging or acquiring the water district fails to make sense to me. The water district is unable, financially or practically to operate without the city's cooperation.
These water districts are anachronisms. They were created in an era long past. At the time growth was not managed. Now the law, and our county's Comprehensive Plan, designate cities to be the natural purveyors of urban services; and only to extend or expand them in areas designated for urban growth. These water districts' former mandate to provide sewer, stormwater, or water services at intensities usually found in urban areas, ended with the passage of the Act.
What in reality was being discussed today was making the Lake Whatcom watershed one giant urban growth area; protecting it with sewer and stormwater services, and paying people, who lack the necessary water services to build, for their development rights.
Now I doubt that the city council, the mayor or Messrs. McKinley or Neher see it that way – yet. But what the city hopes to accomplish by getting control of the water district may well be an unconscious step on that path. Given the finally released Total Maximum Daily Load Study for the lake, there remains no reasonable or legal grounds to continue to allow development in the watershed.
The GMA, and the Washington Supreme Court, have made it unavoidably clear that sewer and stormwater systems are barred from areas outside cities and their urban growth areas. If the city is to become the purveyor of water within the water district boundaries, they would clearly be extending or expanding urban water services in rural areas contrary to the law.
These urban services were barred in order to halt the conversion of undeveloped rural land into sprawling low density development. And that is what, and all, we should be focused on in taming this misdirected water district.
RCW 36.70A.110 (4) has established the rule. “In general, cities are the units of local government most appropriate to provide urban governmental services. In general, it is not appropriate that urban governmental services be extended to or expanded in rural areas except in those limited circumstances shown to be necessary to protect basic public health and safety and the environment and when such services are financially supportable at rural densities and do not permit urban development.”
Why the city, save for perhaps too great generosity with its taxpayers money, wants to bail out this water district and the folks who have made some very poor real estate investments is also lost on me. Though I understand that strong drive for charity.
Another big concern should be the implications of the TMDL study, and the consequences for the various governmental, and quasi governmental entities. Water district residents, the ratepayers of LWW&SD, should certainly be looking over their shoulders.
Bellingham should just sit back and hold the course. Continue to demand the water district live within the law. Ask them how much development they intend to facilitate in the watershed, and then tell them what the sewer treatment will cost. Get Ecology to stop new withdrawals from this closed basin. Let the water district come up against reality, and then extend charity when its recipient's will really show some appreciation for it.
Frankly, if the district goes ahead with their plan to spend millions on a new building, their ratepayers should show up with the pitchforks! There is no good reason, other than posturing, to start construction on it now. It would be wonderful to see how the commissioners would fare if they put that expenditure to a vote of their ratepayers.
Mon, Apr 28, 2008, 8:08 pm
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Click here to listen to podcast of Barbara speaking.
Above is a little podcast - 49 seconds - from the Bellingham City Council
Above is a little podcast - 49 seconds - from the Bellingham City Council
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