North Bend growth still on hold
October 2, 2008 · Updated 2:49 PM
NORTH BEND North Bend city councilmembers recently voted
to extend the city's building moratorium for another six months, keeping
development on hold until a water plan can be implemented.
A solution is on the horizon, but City Administrator Phil Messina
estimates there could be at least another 18 months of building restrictions
before more water comes to town.
"People call and ask every day if they can build something in
North Bend and we have to turn them away," Messina said.
Limited construction has been allowed to continue since the
moratorium began in April of last year, mainly to honor permits granted before
Mayor Joan Simpson said the moratorium crimps plans to
revitalize downtown and hinders the city's overall growth.
"Growth pays for growth and communities die without growth," she
said. "`Mort' (in Latin) means `to die' and we have to get out of moratorium
in order to grow and fulfill our goals."
The restrictions are a result of North Bend using more than
their share of water for years. The miscalculation stems from the city using
the wrong set of figures to determine how much water was allocated from
the 1965 issuance of water rights.
The city is allowed to use 336-acre feet of water each year, but ended
up consuming approximately 500-acre feet in 1997 that equals more
than 53 million gallons over the limit in that year alone. It is estimated that
the city has been overusing water since the mid-80s.
The discrepancy was found during the city's Water Comprehensive
Plan update in 1999. It seemed that nobody, including previous city
engineering consultants, the Department of Ecology (DOE) and the Department
of Health, had caught the mistake during previous plan updates,
Fines were not issued for the extra water because councilmembers
enacted a moratorium soon after the problem was discovered, Messina
The city has made several attempts to obtain more water from
various sources and has finally found a solution.
The new plan is to purchase water from Seattle's Cedar River
Watershed, located above Wilderness Rim, and transport it through Sallal
Water District's old pipeline to a treatment plant near Rattlesnake Lake.
From there, it will be connected with North Bend's distribution system. The
treatment plant has yet to be constructed and would be co-owned by
North Bend and the Sallal Water District, which encompasses Wilderness
Rim and the area between North Bend and Edgewick Road.
Messina said the plan should be able to accommodate the city's
growth over the next 20 years.
The city is ready to start the approximately 18-month long
construction process, Messina said, but official approval from Seattle is pending.
Although the plan would solve North Bend's water dilemma,
building restrictions will continue to be imposed until the project is finished.
"We will very likely be in moratorium until the project is built
and valves are turned on," Messina said.
The project will cost approximately $1.95 million, which
includes the treatment plant and pipeline refurbishing. The Sallal Water District
will contribute approximately $650,000 for their portion of the plant.
Earlier city efforts to solve the water problem included applying
for additional water rights from the DOE in 1992. Mayor Simpson said
this would have been the most logical choice, since the city's current
water source a spring at the bottom of Mount Si produces much
more water than the rights allow to take. But officials found that water
applications were not being processed because of DOE budget cuts and "political
Since it was uncertain when or even if the application would be
approved, North Bend had to pursue other options, including tapping
the well that was dug in Torguson Park in 1996. That was also a dead end,
because the state would not allow access to that water.
Simpson said the state has "tied the hands" of city officials by having
a slow water rights application process.
"We are required to accept growth by the state, but we can't get the
water rights to serve the growth that we're required to take," she said.
A plan to purchase water last year from Snoqualmie also looked like
a promising solution, but was denied by DOE.
Simpson said Governor Gary Locke, King County and the City
of Seattle have come to North Bend's rescue by helping with the latest plan.
"We're very pleased with the progress that we've made,"
Construction of the project will begin as soon as Seattle agrees to
sell their water, which Messina estimates should be within the next few weeks.
The water rights shortage has also delayed the city's sewer plant
expansion. The sewer plant was found to be incapable of handling the city's
growth and was supposed to go through a series of improvements. But when
the water overage was found, only part of the $4 million expansion could
Messina said the sewer improvements should be able to be
completed during the same time as the water plant's construction.