Northwest NEWS

October 21, 2002


Council must stand up for its constituents

The following letter to the Snohomish County Council is referenced in this week's article entitled "A window into the (Brightwater siting) process." The article is on page 1.
   I think the King County Attorney's letter presents a serious issue. It also represents why I am very concerned about Brightwater on several levels.
   King County's arrogance towards Snohomish County residents in the whole process of bringing this forward really sets a terrible precedent. I have gone to many meetings and found it absolutely consistent, and it stems from interpretation by King County of its eminent domain authority.
   I have met with residents of Edmonds, where I live, quite frequently, and I have made the effort to drive over to Woodinville to meet with residents over there and look at the issue from their perspective.
   I think that the letter from the King County Attorney sets into high relief a very serious problem that all citizens in Snohomish County have, certainly those along the southern border with King County.
   That problem seems to be the lack of visibility by Snohomish County government, and the lack of public leaders such as yourself, willing to have the courage to stand up in public and exert real leadership on behalf of the citizens and taxpayers of Snohomish County.
   I think that you should stand up for the ability to say "no" to King County, regardless of what you think about the idea of a regional treatment facility. You should at least be able to say "not yet".
   As this thing became tangible, County Councilmembers of both Counties should have been highly visible in a process that invited real local leaders- and the best citizen critics- into a dialogue that wasn't a pre-scripted PR scheme.
   King County has put on numerous trade show and presentation events, where the say they solicited "input".
   Every one of them has been an insult to the intelligence of anyone smart enough to figure out how a stop sign works.
   Instead, leaving it up to condescending King County staff people and technical people who cannot comment beyond their range of expertise, has created a political injustice that will breed deeper injustice as time goes on.
   You must deal with this.
   You must rise up above more immediate concerns and look to the oath of office you swore, and your responsibility to the taxpaying constituents.
   At a minimum you should have a public hearing on this, and if I am right, and you see genuine sentiment abroad in the land against what is going on here, you should hit the "reset" button. Say no, and start it over in a more appropriate way, one that is more respectful of the citizens.
   I might add, that on another level, it is obvious to some that Brightwater brings with it very significant and massive growth issues that will affect local communities and the whole county for generations to come.
   A billion dollars in sewage capacity in the ground is an incredible force to be reckoned with in its own right, and consequences that may be far reaching, even though quite unintended, could be absolutely unstoppable. The more so, if folks do not know what is coming about.
   Citizens and property owners who cherish the rural, semi rural and suburban character of many Snohomish County communities could be in for a rude set of shocks in coming years.
   Places like Gold Bar could find themselves having to deal with rising taxes and utility rates and being priced out of their communities. At this point there seems to be no discussion about the potential impacts.
   The math I did when I took out my pocket calculator and divided the sewage hookup fee per housing unit (which I took to be about 3500 dollars) into the 1.3 billion dollars got me close to the 500,000 hookups that has been discussed. 60 percent of that figure is what King County keeps saying justifies Brightwater being installed into Snohomish County. That means 300,000 taps, and figuring about three people per tap, that's 900,000 people.
   Now, I don't suppose any arithmetic can accurately depict what will really happen. But even if you took the 250,000 additional population between 1990 and 2000 that the US census counts, and multiplied that times four decades, you'd get a million people.
   It may be that this could happen. It may be that what has driven growth in the '90s may not continue to drive it. Personally, I would think it is time for a much more public discussion about where that many people might wind up, and what needs to happen in terms of infrastructure spending.
   There will be a need for millions to be spent on developing new fresh water supply sources, new roads, new schools and many other things. Local communities will have to be responsible for bond issues. Local voters and taxpayers will need to be engaged.
   I can see the debate coming about in terms of anticipating needs versus a "build it and make them come" strategy. To me, having seen the way growth boom economics and politics worked through the decades in Central Texas, I would say that everyone would be much better off in the long run if Brightwater was not coming off like an end run designed to sneak all this through past an unaware public.
   King County seems to be saying that they cannot stand any delay or this will all turn into pumpkins, like Cinderella's coach. There does not seem to be a convincing reason for that, beyond the appearance that they really don't want the public to get involved.
   King County's general arrogance towards the public is a disastrously bad precedent on which such a large project should be built.
   The Snohomish County Council must take a more visible public leadership role.
   At a minimum, the King County letter should be answered in such a way that the integrity of the Council's intention to stand up for its public can not be questioned.
   Stuart Heady, via e-mail