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Lyle Citizens Discuss Gowth Options, Rate Increases

Most residents present at community council meeting take pro-growth stance

By SAM LOWRY

Gorge News Report

Time and change seem to be catching up with the community of Lyle.

Two complex, emotional, 30-year-old development issues were addressed in one session. On Monday evening, the Lyle Community Council heard from both the Klickitat Public Utility District (KPUD) concerning utility rate increases, and from a team of county consultants shepherding a proposed urban area expansion.

Both issues put into high relief local concerns about growth and economic well-being and divergent visions for the community's future.

Both sets of presenters sought feedback from Lyle residents only; about 30 were on hand.

Lorraine Reynolds and Doug Miller, KPUD water/wastewater manager and supervisor, respectively, together with Lyle consulting engineer John Grim, explained the need for major upgrades to wastewater treatment and water distribution systems.

In 2001, Lyle received notice from the Washington Department of Ecology that its 1972 wastewater treatment plant was in violation of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. The system tends to send either too much or too little chlorine to the Columbia, and needs too much weekend monitoring, according to Miller.

Nearly $300,000 has already been spent on planning and design, but construction costs of over $2.2 million must still be funded. "It's what's called an unfunded mandate," said Reynolds. "Lyle has to do it, and also has to pay for it."

Reynolds said the PUD had been offered a $969,000 state grant and the balance in loans.

"We told them it’s not good enough," said Reynolds. The community will hold

out for a greater proportion of grant funding.

Grim said it is the need to replace rusted, 50-plus-year-old pipes

and provide enough flow to extinguish fires that drive his

recommendations for a six-year, $1 million water system upgrade.

Other costs include a new well, tank, and centralized monitoring.

A major bone of contention, for KPUD and citizens alike, is the

state’s use of 2000 census figures for median income, used for

calculating minimum utility rates. Water and sewer rates must each

represent at least 1.5 percent of median income if a community is to

qualify for hardship funding.

Last year, Lyle and KPUD did their own income survey to challenge the

state’s figure of $36,000 for local median income, said Reynolds. The

state discounted the local survey results, so now it is primarily to

qualify for funding that rates must be raised by as much as 50

percent by 2004, according to the KPUD representatives. Both systems

must be financially solvent, they said.

Water system upgrades would be funded entirely through rate

increases; higher sewer rates, in addition to enabling the hardship

funding, would service the loans.

Several residents, including seniors on fixed incomes, owners of

rental property, and one school board member, expressed astonishment

over the state’s median income figures and anguish over the proposed

rate increases. Most who were present said they consider Lyle a

low-income community that simply cannot afford the hit, and fear

residents’ flight and school closures. More than one threatened to

drill a private well in order to leave the community water system.

Some Council members and residents identified surprise as the biggest

issue. "Why have you told us, year after year, that everything’s OK,

and now tell us it’s so bad?" asked Council member Terry Mills. "We

can no longer trust our own PUD," he said.

KPUD Board President Randy Knowles, in the audience, responded,

suggesting that the DOE wastewater violation notice was just as

unexpected. Grim made clear that a key new reason for the water

system upgrade is the need for fire flow, never before addressed.

"Don’t think we don’t care, because we do," said Knowles.

MORE LIVING ROOM?

In the evening’s second item, Portland attorney Jill Long, together

with economist and planner Todd Chase from Otak Architects of

Portland, asked for residents’ input on the Klickitat County

Commission’s planned request for expansion of the Lyle urban area

boundary.

"This is not a public hearing," said Long. "That will come later,"

after input is incorporated into a more formal proposal. "We are here

to listen," said Long.

The move toward a boundary expansion comes primarily out of several

council members’ and residents’ belief that Trust for Public Lands

acquisition of 30-plus acres on Lyle Point, within the urban

boundary, means drastic curtailment of the community’s ability to

grow. The commission intends to make a case to the Gorge Commission

that an equivalent amount of land, to the north, should be opened for

future growth. In this way, some residents believe, Lyle will have

the same growth potential they feel it was promised when the Columbia

Gorge Scenic Act was enacted in 1974.

The land on Lyle Point was sold to the Trust by a developer when 33

lots he had platted there, complete with utilities, failed to sell,

largely due to various legal challenges.

Some residents who spoke expressed resentment of the Trust’s action

and of others’ acquisition of property in Lyle, for the apparent

purpose of preventing development. Many said they feel there are

those who just want Lyle "to go away, to disappear."

"What did we learn from Lyle Point?" asked one council member. No

clear response was made, except a suggestion that a

"no-net-housing-loss" policy might be considered.

The pair of consultants, Long and Chase, indicated that their goal is

– and the goal of the community should be – smart and orderly

planning for economic growth and a strong community. "You either come

together as a community, or you get California-style growth," said

Chase.

Most residents present were clearly pro-growth, including Oran

Johnson whose 22 acres of family land straddles the urban area

boundary. "Now it won’t become the community land my late mother

wanted," he said, "but growth has to come."

More than one attendee expressed doubt that expansion will be

approved by the Gorge Commission, believing their requirements to be

too strict. "Why improve the water system if it’s unlikely we’re

going to grow anyway?" asked one resident.

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