Any hopes Brightwater opponents had of stopping the proposed sewage treatment project through legislation appear to have been dashed.
One of the two bills in the state Legislature that would have made treading for King County’s proposal very difficult, if not impossible, did not get a vote in the Senate. The version that was passed in the House still applies to future, similar projects but had a provision added that exempts the Brightwater project in particular.
Each of the bills in its original form would have required a local government aiming to cite a facility in another jurisdiction to go through the siting process of that jurisdiction before condemning land for the project. The legislation was proposed in response to concerns about representation raised because King County has proposed that Brightwater be located in one of two locations in Snohomish County – the Unocal property in Edmonds or along Highway 9 north of Woodinville.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” said D.J. Wilson, a board member of the Washington Tea Party, the Edmonds-based citizen group fighting the siting of Brightwater there. If the bill passes as is, “we’ve protected future generations but King County is still allowed to use eminent domain without recourse at all to the voters in the affected area.”
The response from King County, predictably, was different.
The new version is “certainly better than what the original version was,” said Christie True, director of capital projects in the King County wastewater division.
True said the bill’s provision for requiring jurisdictions to go through the siting process before condemning land could potentially make it impossible to do a project, because “you can’t start the process until you can show you have possession and use of the property.”
Sen. Paull Shin, D-Mukilteo, sponsored the Senate version. Shin, who represents the 21st District which covers most of Edmonds, said the bill made it to the Senate floor but that King County senators said they would not vote for it as it was, if the provision exempting Brightwater was not added. Knowing he needed their votes, Shin agreed, and got them to add a provision to establish a committee of legislators to discuss the scope of the bill and come to an agreement.
But the bill was not brought up for discussion prior to the 5 p.m. deadline on the last day to pass bills out of the Senate, Shin said.
The House version will now go to the Senate. Shin said he would try to attach the committee provision to the bill. But Sen. Darlene Fairley, D-Lake Forest Park, cautioned against that strategy.
“That might kill the bill,” said Fairley, whose 32nd District covers part of Edmonds along with Shoreline and Lake Forest Park. With the Brightwater project removed – the bill would apply only to projects that begin the state environmental review process after Dec. 31, 2003 – King County senators “won’t have that objection, they won’t be able to make it,” she said.
Regarding the intent of the bill, “it’s hard to argue against that policy. I think (the bill) has a real good chance of going.”
Wilson held out some hope that Shin would be able to restore the Brightwater provision, but noted that at this point, most legislation has gone beyond the point where citizen input makes much difference.
“About all we can do is hold our breath and cross our fingers,” he said.
True said the bill as it exists could still affect other future projects such as a possible need to expand and-or replace trunk lines in the North Creek and Swamp Creek basins.
She said an advantage of the current system is that it allows affected property owners to move on more quickly. True said the county is already negotiating with 12 property owners along Highway 9, which has been stated as the county’s preferred alternative. Agreement has been reached on one piece of property, a 17-acre parcel owned by the Northshore School District, she said.
Wilson stressed that anti-Brightwater forces are not hanging their hat only on the legislation.
“This is only one phase of what we’re working on in the Washington Tea Party,” Wilson said. “We have a large group of volunteers, for instance, which have put forward a tremendous amount of time on the draft EIS. And we are winning on that front – hands down, I believe.”