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City: New Water Hookups Soon?

On the table for discussion

By JESSE BURKHARDT

The Enterprise

The issue of new water hookups for the city of White Salmon is now "officially" on the table for discussion.

With the city poised to award a construction bid for the building of a new water filtration plant on Buck Creek, officials anticipate there will soon be more hookups available.

Residential and industrial water hookups are expected to soon be ready for dispersal from the city, and the backlog is long. The formal "waiting list" for new water hookups is lengthy, reflecting how many months it has been since new water connections have been issued in the city of White Salmon.

The city began compiling the list in January 2007, after the Washington Department of Health placed a moratorium on new water hookups because the city had been exceeding the water usage allowed under its water rights permits.

As of May 4, according to City Hall staff, there are a total of 160 names are on the city's waiting list. Some of those on the list are requesting multiple hookups.

"You don't know how hard it has been telling people `No' for the past two years," said Dixie Walker, assistant planner at White Salmon City Hall.

But how to efficiently award the new water hookups -- and at what costs -- remain as ticklish issues. The city is still trying to decide how to proceed once approval is gained and the state-mandated water moratorium is lifted.

On May 6, the White Salmon City Council scheduled a public hearing on a proposed water ordinance geared to focus on two issues: how to distribute water hookups, and what the new fee schedules for connection services ought to be.

Before Wednesday night's meeting, Mayor David Poucher pointed out that the city's "water source problem" will be fixed with the slow-sand filtration plant.

"Buck Creek will give us 1,000 gallons per minute," Poucher said. "With the two wells, we'll get another 1,100 gpm. That's way more than we need -- and those are very conservative estimates."

Poucher said he hoped the council acted soon to put a new water ordinance in place.

"Our goal with the [May 6] meeting is to educate and take testimony," he said. "We'd like to pass the ordinance that night, but we're not going to if there are a lot of comments we need to go back and research."

The draft ordinance will address the waiting list as well as an updated fee structure.

For example, Poucher said he expected the cost of a new water hookup to be between $5,000-$10,000 for one residence served by a three-quarter inch line. Currently, the cost for a residential water hookup is $2,400.

Last week, the city opened sealed bids from contractors vying to build White Salmon new water filtration plant on Buck Creek. Once the filtration plant is under construction, the expectation is that the state will begin allowing the city to issue some water hookups.

"Since last year, I've said I don't think the state will make us wait until the entire project is done," explained Mike Wellman, director of the city's Public Works Department.

According to Poucher, the city intends to tie issuance of new water hookups to those who have a building plan in place and are ready to start construction.

"The water meter will be issued with a commitment to build," Poucher said. "We'd notify the first 30 on the list, for example, and say, `can you start building within 60 days, 90 days?' If you say yes, OK, otherwise, we'll go on to the next portion of the list. We're looking at someone who wants to start construction right now. The idea is, let's get some construction going, let's put some people to work."

Poucher added that the city does not want to see a repeat of what took place a couple years back when people paid for water meters, but then held them for possible future development. That created a situation where property owners who were ready to build could not do so because they could not get water.

"They can't sit on meters any more," Poucher explained. "The tentative ordinance will say, `you pay for the water meter, and pay for a building permit at the same time -- and you have to start construction by a certain time. If you don't, you could forfeit your meter and your costs.'"

Poucher said in the event of emergency situations where the builder could not proceed, the City Council could decide to return fees on a case-by-case basis -- but it would be up to the council members to decide whether to allow that.

Poucher added that the state of Washington wants the city to have an industrial as well as a residential waiting list. The city does not have an industrial waiting list.

"They are completely different for water rights," Poucher said.

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