July 15, 2002
'A window into the (Brightwater siting) process'
by Jeanette Knutson
On Sept. 19, a King County attorney sent a letter to a Snohomish County attorney. The letter was not penned by some over-zealous legal eagle.
According to Brightwater Project Manager Christie True, it was discussed with Brightwater officials before it was sent.
On one level, the letter dealt with the essential public facilities ordinance that Snohomish County is currently drafting. The essence of the letter, however, dealt with Brightwater.
The King County attorney wrote, "We have reviewed the recent draft of Snohomish County's proposed (essential public facilities) ... ordinance."
The letter went on to say that although Snohomish County's draft ordinance was commendable, King County had some concerns about it. Could Snohomish County please review the issues set out in the letter and make the appropriate changes to the draft ordinance, the letter asked.
One of the things that concerned King County about the proposed essential public facilities ordinance was that Snohomish County might require the Brightwater folks to get a conditional use permit for the regional wastewater treatment facility it wants to site in Snohomish County.
"Most disturbing about the addition of a (conditional use permit) requirement," King County's letter stated, "is the possibility of (such a permit) not being issued."
King County feared the public and Snohomish County officials might view the conditional use permit process "as a tool to directly or indirectly preclude the siting of any (essential public facility) such as Brightwater ... ."
When the public caught wind of the letter, reactions varied.
"I was shocked and dismayed," said anti-Brightwater 'Just the Facts' member Mark Sakura, "that King County wanted to do something like that (weaken Snohomish County's powers in the siting process).
Sno-King Environmental Alliance member Tim Joseph said, "I thought the letter was an interesting window into the process. It showed a struggle between King and Snohomish counties in the siting process. I thought they were more together on this. ... Maybe it's not such an inside deal after all."
When Edmonds' Stuart Heady heard about the letter, he dashed off an e-mail to this reporter and a letter to Snohomish County Council members. (See Letters to the Editor, page 6 of this edition.)
"Essentially," Heady's e-mail said, "if Snohomish County capitulates, this gives away any bargaining power that citizens in Snohomish County might think they have in the Brightwater process.
"It also rips the cover off of the Council's true attitude about all this. If they have been saying to everyone that they have been staying mum in order to have a say when the permitting process rolls around, this essentially is King County calling the Snohomish Council to take a stand on their side. The citizens have been hoping the Council would take a stand on theirs," wrote Heady.
The Snohomish County attorney's response to the letter was dated Oct. 4. It is set out in full below.
"Thank you for your letter of September 19, 2002, in which you provided comments on Snohomish County's draft essential public facility (EPF) ordinance. We understand that Snohomish County's impending adoption of an EPF ordinance is of particular importance to King County in light of its desire to site and construct the proposed Brightwater wastewater treatment facility in our County.
"After carefully reviewing your letter and Washington law on the subject, we must inform you that we do not agree with your characterization of the EPF ordinance as to its intended effect. We further disagree with your assertion that (the Growth Management Act) somehow limits the County's authority in requiring a (conditional use permit) for a facility such as the Brightwater wastewater treatment plant and its related facilities.
"However, we appreciate your taking the time to comment, and remind you that King County can participate in the public hearing process before the Council on the legislation, just like any public agency, citizen or private entity."
Christie True said, "The (King County attorney's) letter is being interpreted as we don't want to comply with Snohomish County's (requirements), that we hold ourselves above Snohomish County. We believe we will not only meet but also exceed all of Snohomish County's conditions.
"... This is a complicated permitting element. ... Snohomish County is adamant about representing and protecting its citizens, and we're 100 percent on board with that. They need to do their due diligence.
"... We've raised our issue. They've responded. I don't know that it will go any further," said True.
Elaine Kraft, spokesperson for King County Executive Ron Sims, characterized King County's letter as "part of the ordinance process to craft the best possible, most workable (essential public facilities) ordinance for everybody. During this legislative process, everybody gives their two cents."
Kraft said, "We absolutely agree Snohomish County has to do their due diligence. We're completely on board with that."
Jim Hammond, intergovernmental-relations adviser to the Snohomish County Executive's Office, called the letter "a comment letter on pending legislation, saying it represented a sincerely held opinion about essential public facilities.
Hammond said, "Our commitment has not been to oppose the facility. We realize the system needs it, the region needs it, for environmental reasons. Our intention is not to kill a needed project. But we have to have all the facts.
"We have to make certain all the impacts are addressed. Odor and the aquifer are huge issues at the Route 9 site. We have to make sure it is a fair process, scientifically based. We're spending hundreds of thousands of dollars - King County's paying, we're not using Snohomish County citizens' money - in staff time and in hiring independent consultants to scrutinize this. The community is asking good and important questions. They deserve full and thorough, scientifically founded investigation. But if (King County) picks a site and comes in for a permit, we cannot unreasonably withhold it unless the impacts are so drastic we have grounds not to issue a permit, unless they earned a 'no' and the impacts are too great. We don't have the power to tell a property owner - large or small - they can't have a permit. We do not have unlimited power. It is constrained power."