With an ongoing moratorium on new water hookups in the city of White Salmon, controversy appears to be growing about how to handle those who purchased water hookups from the city but have not yet used them.
In a letter dated Dec. 14, the White Salmon Public Works Department sought to clarify its requirements for those who purchased water hookups before the moratorium went into effect.
"Your water application ... is still being held on file with the city," reads an excerpt from the city's letter. "This letter is a request to have you forward a written statement to this office requesting another six-month extension of your application ... You may request a refund of your water fees or you may request another six-month extension. Approval must be made by the City Council. I would encourage you to provide a letter of explanation as to why you have not made a connection to the city's utility infrastructure should you wish to re-apply."
Danny Jeffries, a Hood River resident, is one of those who got the city's letter. Jeffries attended the Dec. 20 meeting of the White Salmon City Council and asked for clarification about what the letter meant.
"I have a letter authorizing a water meter, but I'm not ready to install it because I'm not ready to build yet," Jeffries explained to the council members. "What does the City Council want from me?"
"The water hookup is not open and endless," responded council member Brad Roberts. "It's for six months and a six-month extension."
Jeffries said he was agreeable to doing whatever the city wanted him to do regarding the water meter, but he said the letter was unclear regarding how he should proceed.
"I'm willing to comply with what you ask for, I just don't know what you want," Jeffries said.
"When did you plan on using the water hookup?" council member Richard Marx asked Jeffries.
"The economy is such that I've backed off on my plans," Jeffries said. "I bought it because the water moratorium was about to go into effect."
Mayor Francis Gaddis said Public Works Director Wil Keyser could not be at the council meeting, and Keyser was the one best equipped to respond to Jeffries' questions.
"He knows what has to be done," Gaddis said. "I suggest you get in touch with him."
After the meeting, Marx pointed to the city's existing water ordinance to show that city codes have not been followed.
The White Salmon ordinance (13.16.010) regarding new water connections appears as follows:
"A) Impact fees for water hookups must be paid in full within 30 days of the date of approval, or the approval is void. B) If a request for physical hookup is not made within six months of the approval date, the approval is void and the application fee shall be forfeited to the city except that one six-month extension may be granted by the City Council due to circumstances judged to be beyond the applicant's control. Such extension must be applied for within six months from the date of approval and may not continue beyond one year from the approval. C) Following council approval of an extension, applicants shall pass at least one building inspection prior to the end of the six-month extension. If at least one building inspection has not been passed during the extension period, the approval is void and any fees paid shall be forfeited to the city."
Marx said White Salmon's ordinances are not being enforced.
"The language in the ordinance was put there for a reason, so people can't do what they're doing now," Marx said. "When we had the mad rush of water hookups, they all happened within two months. A year has passed since then, and I would like to see this municipal code upheld."
Marx added that those who paid for water hookups and did not use them will have to forfeit the fees they paid to the city.
"They have six months to use the hookup. After those six months, the City Council can approve a water extension," Marx explained. "The council has made no extensions as far as I know, so all these hookups are voided and all fees are non-refundable. All their hookups are no good, because they haven't lived up to the code."
Councilor Roberts pointed out, however, that former Mayor Roger Holen sent a letter advising at least one local developer that when the six-month extension period for using the water connections expired, there could be another extension to the deadline.
In a Sept. 22, 2005, letter from then-Mayor Roger Holen to BBK White Salmon I, LLC, Holen appeared to grant an additional six-month extension to BBK, which had applied for 46 new water connections.
"The maximum number of extensions is two (2) six-month extensions after the normal six-month installation period," Holen wrote, adding: "If for any reason the city is unable or fails to install or connect any of the meters, the purchase price for the unused connections will be refunded to you."
Although the city ordinance specifies one six-month extension, not two, Roberts said the City Council needed to take Holen's letter into consideration when setting its policies on water connections.
"Once the city makes a commitment, it's tough to turn around and take it back," said Roberts.
"You can't override the law with a simple letter," Marx responded. "It's not legal. I don't see a loophole in our ordinance."
"What would you propose to do?" asked council member Timi Keene.
"Go by the ordinance," Marx said. "Uphold the law. For some odd reason, people bought water hookups thinking they could just stick them in their back pocket. Who led them to the trough?"
Marx noted that he had asked the city's Public Works Department in November to inform the council of the status of every water hookup, but still did not have that information.
"Nobody has gotten back to me. I'm still waiting," Marx said.