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Owen's visit focuses on water moratorium

Area should be used to visit with elections in the fall

The Bingen-White Salmon area could get used to this. For the second time in less than two weeks, the local area hosted a high-profile political leader.

On June 13, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen came to town, just 11 days after U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell toured The Insitu Group facilities in Bingen.

Owen toured Insitu, enjoyed lunch at Viento in downtown Bingen, and then arrived at the Pioneer Center to engage in a lengthy discussion about water issues -- and specifically, the water moratorium White Salmon has been dealing with since last December.

"The topic was decided on and Brad Owen was asked to come to visit," explained White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen. "The focus -- and the very tight focus -- of the 90-minute meeting at the Pioneer Center was the city of White Salmon's water system."

The water moratorium means there can be no new water hookups -- beyond those that had already been approved and paid for before the December moratorium went into effect. The restriction will remain until the city can secure new water rights.

The Washington Department of Health ordered the moratorium because the city has, for several years, been using more water than it has a legal right to under its existing water rights agreement.

The visit by Owen was engineered by Miland Walling, a member of the Klickitat County Economic Development Authority and a man with strong political connections.

"I thought the meeting went very well," Walling said.

Holen said he was hopeful after the visit by Owen.

"My statement to the lieutenant governor was that a lot of work needs to be done to get past the water rights bottlenecks, but I can't wait that long. The city is shut down and it can't wait," said Holen.

Owen said he would approach Gov. Christine Gregoire and ask her to lift the moratorium on water hookups in White Salmon by way of an executive order.

"The lieutenant governor said he would talk to her about it as soon as he got back to Olympia," Holen said. "We'll know if something materializes."

Walling said Owen will give the issue his attention in an effort to get the situation resolved for the city of White Salmon.

"The lieutenant governor will be contacting the director of the Department of Ecology and the Department of Health," Walling said. "He wants to get that moratorium lifted. That's why he's making the phone calls."

In addition to Owen, among those attending the Tuesday session at the Pioneer Center were Klickitat County Commissioner Don Struck, Washington State Sen. Jim Honeyford and State Reps. Bruce Chandler and Dan Newhouse, Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel, and representatives of the Washington Department of Ecology, the Klickitat County Conservancy Board, and the Klickitat Public Utility District.

"It was good to see that much power in one room to see if we can come to grips with the water issue," said White Salmon City Council member Brad Roberts, who serves as chair of the city's water committee. "It's a very complicated problem, but Owen knew the issue and was very responsive. He asked some tough questions and said he'd speak to the governor when he got back."

Roberts said he was impressed with Owen.

"He seems like a very forthright, get down to business guy. If he says he's going to do something, I tend to believe him," Roberts commented.

Holen pointed out that even if the governor lifts the moratorium, it does not mean that would be the end of the issue.

"We still need to get water rights, but we've had an application in for nine years, and we can't wait another nine," he said.

The city of White Salmon is currently engaged in efforts to purchase additional water rights as a way out of the dilemma.

"I can't get too specific due to ongoing negotiations," Holen said. "But there is a water trust being established in which we may be able to access part of the Goldendale Aluminum plant's water right, and it's a huge amount of water. What we need is a mere drippy faucet compared to what's available there."


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