EVERETT — Bottling and selling city water became a touchy topic in Everett last year after a start-up company tried and failed to get the city to agree to a decades-long water contract.
That’s why it caught Eve
rett leaders off guard Wednesday when Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon announced that Evergreen Bottling is in talks with the Port of Everett to build a plant that would use city water.
“No one was more surprised to hear that news than myself,” Mayor Ray Stephanson said during a City Council meeting Wednesday.
The county first told the Everett economic development director about the plan last fall — but not city leaders, said county spokesman Christopher Schwarzen on Thursday in a 10-point response sent by e-mail.
He maintained that “Snohomish County had made a successful business case and that Evergreen Bottling had decided to locate in Snohomish County.”
Stephanson said he first heard about the plan last week and his impression of the project was that it was in the very preliminary phases.
“I was surprised to hear the announcement at all,” he said. “From everything I’ve heard, it’s not a done deal.”
Thursday, he called the county executive’s announcement during a State of the County speech “premature.”
“This company has not requested permits, and they have not identified a specific location,” Stephanson said. “That’s all to come.”
It appears the Port of Everett was also surprised by the announcement.
Port executive director John Mohr sent the mayor an e-mail Wednesday morning. In part it said, “I am unclear as to where this is to be located.”
In another e-mail, the Port spokeswoman asked the director, “I didn’t realize this was official … were we contacted by Reardon’s office prior to this story breaking?”
Others on the council said it was the first they had heard of the proposal.
“That’s news to me too,” Councilman Ron Gipson said. “We try to stay on top of those things. In terms of the announcement, it would be nice to have them come into town.”
The company wants to build a 100,000-square-foot facility to bottle water-based beverages for domestic and foreign consumption.
In Reardon’s announcement, he said the new plant is expected to produce up to 50 million bottles per month.
Another company, Tethys Enterprises, wanted to build a plant 10 times that size in Everett.
Backers shifted their plans to Anacortes after Stephanson refused to guarantee the requested 5 million gallons of water daily without some job guarantees in return.
Evergreen expects to use only about 2 million gallons a month.
The mayor and some on the council said Evergreen’s plan may well be a boon for the city.
Stephanson said the company presents a tremendous opportunity to bring jobs to the community. As long as Evergreen Bottling meets code requirements and gets the necessary permits, “you bet we’d welcome you.”
He pointed out that unlike Tethys, this company is not asking for a special contract. It’s also asking for far less water. Other companies, such as Cintas, which launders uniforms, use comparable amounts of water.
This company would be treated like any commercial water customer.
Councilman Drew Nielsen said Thursday the handling of the announcement was odd.
“It absolutely came out of the blue,” he said.
Before Tethys asked the city for water, he would have said there was plenty of it for whatever business wanted it. Dealing with Tethys caused city leaders to realize the city’s substantial water supply was a valuable resource.
Maybe it’s time the city had a talk about how to best use that resource when these types of proposals come forward, Nielsen said.
Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or firstname.lastname@example.org