File photoA 212-unit development is slated for the Dahlgren property, more commonly known as the “mule pasture.”

File photo A 212-unit development is slated for the Dahlgren property, more commonly known as the “mule pasture.”

North Bend’s water war heats up as construction is set to begin

Who gets to supply water to a 212-unit housing complex is at the heart of the skirmish.

Development on a 212-unit housing complex in North Bend could begin this month — even though the property remains without water.

The property in question, commonly known as the Mule Pasture, lies along SE North Bend Way. Bellevue-based Taylor Development has been trying to build hundreds of housing units on the site for years. But the Sallal Water Association, which used to serve the property, wasn’t able to provide enough water for the project.

Last year, the King County Utility Technical Review Committee decided that Sallal hadn’t provided water service in a reasonable amount of time, and removed the parcel from the association’s service area. It was the first time a property was taken from Sallal.

But the ruling didn’t hand service of the property over to North Bend. Since last fall, it has sat in limbo, as North Bend tries to officially become the property’s water provider.

To do this, the city has included the parcel in its Water Service Plan — a sprawling 1,769 page document outlining how it will deliver water into the future. City staff expect the plan to go before the Metropolitan King County Council for approval in coming months.

North Bend Deputy City Administrator Mark Rigos said he was “very confident” that the plan would be approved, and the Mule Pasture incorporated into the city’s service area.

The developer is expected to begin preliminary construction shortly. Rigos said the company notified the city that they planned to start clearing and grading on the site this October.

The company already has construction equipment on-site, and a pre-construction meeting between the city and developer was held earlier this month.

The Mule Pasture property has been a flashpoint in the turf war between Sallal and North Bend over who gets to service customers in the city’s urban growth area. Sallal is a member-owned co-op that operates its own well south of the city. North Bend provides its own municipal water service within much of the city.

But a portion of Sallal’s service area sits within North Bend city limits and its urban growth area, and the association provides water to many of these customers. These are neighborhoods and areas either outside of city limits that the city is expected to annex in the future, or which it has annexed in the past.

There have been concerns from Sallal customers in recent years that North Bend will attempt what amounts to a hostile takeover of the association’s customers. Multiple documents examined as part of a Snoqualmie Valley Record investigation last year found that both King County and North Bend, in the past, intended to for the city to eventually provide water service to all customers inside its urban growth area.

While North Bend city council members have stated they’re not interested in doing that currently, Sallal has had trouble finding enough water to keep up with the demand of a growing region. The association is required by law to provide water for all customers in its service area.

The Cedar River development at the Mule Pasture was put on ice for years as Sallal couldn’t provide it enough water. By the time the association felt that it could service the project, the Mule Pasture developers had already asked to be removed from Sallal’s service area.

Sallal has a relatively small well compared to North Bend. Sallal can provide just under 700 acre-feet per year of water, compared to North Bend’s Centennial well which can pull some 3,000.

North Bend has offered to sell Sallal water to meet its needs, if Sallal provides water to the city during dry summers to offset the water its well draws from the Snoqualmie River.

The city has already contracted with the city of Seattle’s water utility to provide mitigation, but North Bend’s well permit requires they have a second, backup mitigation source. Negotiations between Sallal and the city to come to an agreement have dragged on for a decade.

In its water system plan, the city states that it secured a small backup mitigation source that would meet its well’s requirements. But others in the valley still have concerns.

Jean Buckner is a local activist and Sallal Water Association customer who has pushed against the city’s plans to develop the Mule Pasture. She’s involved with the community organization Friends of the Snoqualmie Valley Trail and River.

“We don’t see how anything can happen until those (water system plans) are complete and approved,” she said.

Friends of the Snoqualmie Valley Trail and River’s attorney sent a letter to King County and the Washington state Department of Health on Sept. 30. The letter asks that the water system plan not be approved, and that the city be placed on a building moratorium until they can secure additional water mitigation.

North Bend was previously under a building moratorium for a decade from 1999 to 2009 after it was discovered they had been exceeding the amount of water they were allowed to take from their first well, Mount Si.

Since the 1980s, the city had been pulling more water from their well. The overdrawing continued until the Centennial well came on-line in 2009, and the building moratorium was lifted.

North Bend’s water system plan is set to be presented to the Utility Technical Review Committee on Oct. 21, where the committee will decide whether to recommend that the county council approve the plan, or if it needs more work.

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