News

North Bend growth still on hold

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

the decision.

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,

Messina said.

Fines were not issued for the extra water because councilmembers

enacted a moratorium soon after the problem was discovered, Messina

explained.

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

logjams."

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,"

Simpson said.

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

be done.

Messina said the sewer improvements should be able to be

completed during the same time as the water plant's construction.

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