Negotiations that would allow King County to start building the Brightwater sewage treatment plant in south Snohomish County will start July 26, officials from both counties have confirmed.
The agreement to sit down at the table marks a significant change in posture in the long-festering fight over what King County should have to pay to offset the impact of building the $1.48 billion plant at Highway 9 and Highway 522.
The agreement to start negotiations comes after Gov. Christine Gregoire said she would not get involved.
“I just talked to Aaron (Reardon) about it and Aaron said, ‘Let us work it out,’” Gregoire said last week of a conversation she had with the Snohomish County executive. She said she would be hands-off “for now.”
King County had asked the governor to impose financial sanctions on Snohomish County for allegedly working to prevent or delay the start of Brightwater construction.
As to negotiations, Snohomish County wants its neighbor to the south to pay $80 million to fix roads, build parks and make improvements that would offset building a 114-acre plant in the Maltby area. King County has offered to pay $50 million.
The two counties are also fighting over what kind of review to put Brightwater through. Snohomish County wants a public process that allows residents to weigh in with their concerns. King County wants the cost it pays now to guarantee that Snohomish County won’t put more restrictions on it in the future.
Snohomish County Council President Gary Nelson, Councilman Dave Gossett and Deputy County Executive Gary Weikel will lead the Snohomish County negotiating team. Brightwater project director Christie True, County Executive Ron Sims’ chief of staff, Kurt Triplett, and a County Council staff member will sit on the King County team.
Parties on both sides said they are eager to get Brightwater moving but remain wary of their opponent.
“We’re willing to listen to what they have to offer,” Nelson said, pointing out that it’s King County that keeps filing lawsuits. “Let’s face it, it’s not Snohomish County that’s causing any of the delays.”
Triplett said King County has been forced to push the fight into court because Snohomish County has been dragging its feet when it knows construction on Brightwater needs to start this year if it’s to open in 2010. That’s when King County reportedly will run out of capacity at its two current sewage treatment plants.
“King County has been trying to work it out for six months,” he said. “We’re frustrated that Snohomish County hasn’t seemed to be interested in working it out.”
Nelson and Triplett agreed that the fight will be over how the sewage treatment plant is reviewed that creates the most sparks during negotiations, not money.
“The (debate) is far greater than $80 million in mitigation money,” Nelson said of the cash Snohomish County wants its neighbor to pay. “The big issue is giving people the right to come forth to a hearing examiner and let their objections or support be known.”
That means putting Brightwater through a conditional use permit process that would be overseen by a Snohomish County hearing examiner, Nelson. He said King County’s proposal for a nonpublic review is unacceptable, especially since Snohomish and King counties hold similar hearings when other essential public facilities are proposed.
Triplett said King County won’t agree to a conditional use permit because Snohomish County could leave the door open to future restrictions. He said King County is willing to pay to offset its impacts on Snohomish County, adding that doing so should allow it to get all of its building permits and the right to operate in perpetuity without new restrictions.
“One way or another we need to get this built for both counties,” Triplett said.
Herald writer Jerry Cornfield contributed to this report.
Reporter Lukas Velush: 425-339-3449 or firstname.lastname@example.org.