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North Bend will likely extend building moratorium another six months

NORTH BEND - The city of North Bend discussed extending its building moratorium last week and the end of it still looks months and millions of dollars away.

With its latest plan for getting out of moratorium indefinitely stalled by a protest from a Native American Indian tribe and other options costing between $1.5 to $2.3 million, city officials said the short-term prognosis does not look imminent nor cheap.

"We are no closer to water than we were two years ago when I first got on this council," said Councilwoman Karen Tavenner. "Something has got to change."

North Bend went into its present moratorium in 1999 when it found that it was drawing more water than was allowed under state regulations. Since then, that moratorium, which extends to anyone within the North Bend water service area, has been reviewed and renewed every six months. The city can process building plans involving anything needing water, but can't approve them until the city gets additional water rights, which are granted by the state Department of Ecology (DOE) when additional supplies of water are found.

Last year North Bend looked into a plan for getting water from the Snoqualmie River Watershed and replacing it with water from the Cedar River Watershed, which is maintained by Seattle Public Utilities (SPU). The project would be funded with a $500,000 grant from the DOE and the city hoped to get out of its moratorium by the end of this year.

In October, however, the city received a letter from from the Tulalip Tribe that stated a "highly infectious fish pathogen" called Infectious Hematopietic Necrosis (IHN) was located in the Cedar River and should not be introduced into the Snoqualmie River Watershed. It said IHN is a virus that spreads quickly in juvenile salmonoids and is responsible for huge losses of salmon and steelhead every year. City officials met with members of the Tulalip Tribe earlier this year but North Bend Public Works Director Ron Garrow said the Tribe would not relinquish their concern.

At the City Council's March 15 meeting, council members discussed the future of the city's plan to attain water rights. There was discussion of whether or not the drought emergency declared by Gov. Christine Gregoire might help the city get additional water rights.

"My huge concern is that little North Bend is going to be sitting in a moratorium for the next six months and if there truly is a drought this summer and it really is subtenant, other cities and other counties and other agencies are going to go after water rights and they are going to get water rights and we're still going to be sitting in limbo," Tavenner said. "We just paid another $31,000 to the Department of Ecology this month for heavens knows what and we still sit here with nothing, absolutely nothing."

That emergency declaration is not likely to help North Bend get additional water rights, according to DOE spokesman Curt Hart. Hart said the governor's drought emergency is meant to help those communities that can't meet their existing water rights usage for health and human safety, not for communities looking to gain additional rights.

At the council meeting, Councilman Mark Sollitto discussed two other options the city will be investigating in the coming months that are similar to the plan the city studied last year. Like the previous plan, North Bend will look to SPU to get water. This time, however, they would look to pipe water from the Tolt River Watershed and put it back into the ground at Deep Creek, a tributary of the North Fork of the Snoqualmie River.

That water may take a while, however, to get into the watershed due to a wetland, so there is another, more expensive option that costs $2.3 million. That option would bypass the wetland and pipe water directly to the Snoqualmie River Watershed.

While there is hope that either of the plans would work, Sollitto said the cost of both will make the decision a hard one.

"It's like being asked to choose between poison or a rope," Sollitto said.

Garrow said the $500,000 granted to the city from the DOE can be used to help mitigate the costs of either of those plans. He also said that if and when the city gets additional water rights, it can come out of it moratorium immediately and would not have to wait until its six-month timeline had expired.

The City Council unanimously voted to pass the moratorium on its first reading and it will be discussed again for approval at it's March 29 meeting.

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