Legislation could lead to the expansion of West Point Sewage Treatment Plant

King County has already spent three years on the siting process for Brightwater, the new plant, according to project manager Christie True. But identical bills in the state Senate and House call for adding a new layer of regulation. The additional regulation could doom the project or delay it enough that the State Department of Ecology could institute a moratorium on constructing any building in King and Snohomish counties because of a lack of new sewage treatment capacity, she said.
The key element involved is the ability of King County to obtain land for the plant by using eminent-domain powers in Snohomish County. According to the bills, the needed land couldn't be condemned without first going through a "city or county siting process for an essential public facility."
Sen. Paull Shin (D-Mukilteo), 21st District, the prime sponsor of the Senate bill, frames the argument as one of citizen rights.
"Though this bill was sparked by the Brightwater project, it is not a Brightwater bill," he said via e-mail. "It is a bill to ensure that people's voices are able to be heard in their government."
King County Council member Larry Phillips doesn't buy it. "It's essentially a bill to kill Brightwater," he said. "Make no mistake about it."
Phillips also finds it suspicious that the Senate and House bills have only recently been proposed. "They could have done it 20 years ago," he said, adding that successful passage of a final bill would hamstring local and regional government.
State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Queen Anne) - who testified Feb 13 against the bill before the Senate Land Use and Planning Committee - is troubled by another aspect of the bills.
They would apply only to "metropolitan municipal corporations," and King County is the only location in the state that fits that description, she said.
"I am hoping this bill is probably not going anywhere," Kohl-Welles said.
Renton Mayor Jesse Tanner is steamed about the two bills, as well, because their passage would mean the sewage treatment plant in his city would also need to be expanded.
Tanner was unable to attend the Feb. 13 committee hearing, said Julie Brewer, Renton's community-relations manager. But he submitted a letter to the committee and Renton-area legislators in January, when the issue first came up this year, she said.
Quoting Metro estimates, Tanner noted that 63 percent of the sewage treated at Brightwater would come from Snohomish County. The Renton mayor also unloaded both barrels against the bills. "After years of inclusive public process and the creation of regional accords," he wrote, "it is simply unacceptable for a new 'monkey wrench' to be thrown into the process at this late date."
Magnolia resident and staunch Discovery Park advocate Bob Kildall also testified against the Senate bill at the Feb. 13 committee hearing.
"The way it was written was highly deceptive," he said. Kildall also said one of the committee members pointed out that Brightwater wasn't mentioned in the Senate bill. However, supporters of the bill brought it up. "They just blew their cover because they were talking about sewers all the time," he said. "What they're not saying," Kildall added, "is their crud has been increasing and increasing, and it's not fair to send it someplace else."
He thinks the bills pose a serious threat to the West Point and Renton plants.
"It's not only serious, it's almost ridiculous to think we can avoid building a third plant ...," Kildall said.

Reporter at Large Russ Zabel can be reached at rzabel@nwlink.com.
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