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Eminent domain bill draws debate

A bill granting eminent domain powers to Cascade Water Alliance is before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Olympia and has caused concern among Lake Tapps community members.

The measure is Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1561, which passed the House 77-17 Feb. 14. Both 31st District members of the House of Representatives, Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake and Chris Hurst, D-Greenwater, voted against the bill.

The bill's title is, “Granting authority of a watershed management partnership to exercise powers of its forming governments.”

The bill allows Cascade to use the power of eminent domain or condemnation to build a waterline from Lake Tapps to Bellevue.

Cascade is in negotiation with Puget Sound Energy to purchase the reservoir and convert it into a drinking water utility.

Mike Gagliardo, director of planning for Cascade, said the bill “is very straightforward and is for our utility purposes only. It puts us on a par with the other water utilities in the state.”

Lake Tapps Community Councilman Leon Stucki said the community is concerned because the bill will likely receive no public hearing and could move quickly to the governor's desk.

“Last year the same bill came up and it caught everyone by surprise,” Stucki said. “Cascade promised they would discuss it with us this year so we wouldn't be caught by surprise again. To be honest we were not trying to block it, but we wanted to understand it.”

Stucki said one of the community's concerns is they want assurance the reservoir and the area around it will not be altered by Cascade claiming property.

“The language (in the bill) needs to be more explicit,” Stucki said. “It's way too broad.”

Another concern is the bill requires only 30 days notice to property owners before the process of condemnation begins.

The bill states the entity will, “Provide notice to the city, town, or county with jurisdiction over the subject property by certified mail thirty days prior to the partnership board authorizing condemnation.”

Stucki said there is concern about the condemnation powers being granted and there is no representation from the Tapps area on Cascade's board.

Sen. Pam Roach, R- Auburn, is a member of the Judiciary Committee and she alerted the community about the quick movement of the bill.

The reason the bill will not receive a public hearing is complicated. The language from a Senate bill that stalled in the Rules Committee was inserted into House Bill 1561, using a legislative maneuver call “amending with a striker.” The engrossed House bill was then passed in the House.

Roach said since the Senate bill had previously had a public hearing, Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, who chairs Judiciary, decided not to give the bill another public hearing.

Kline did not return a Friday phone call to his office for comment on the issue.

“There needs to be more protection for those who are going to have their property taken,” Sen. Roach said. “But I think this is going to pass.”

The senator hopes she will be able to insert an amendment concerning more notification to property owners.

“I think that is a victory,” she said. “I'm told that Sen. Kline is willing to accept one of the amendments. Cascade worked all summer long to line this bill up.”

Roach said she will be able to introduce amendments in an executive session that was scheduled for Tuesday.

If the amendment is accepted the bill will return to the House for concurrence.

Hurst said there is a legal question whether Cascade can use eminent domain powers under their current organization.

“As a general rule I am against eminent domain being broadened,” Hurst said. “Cascade has not always been a good neighbor with the community and I'm not sure Cascade has earned eminent domain authority. But the primary focus is on the issuance of the (drinking water) permit by DOE (Department of Ecology). The lake and the lake levels are critical.”

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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