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Cities ready and willing to buy Tapps

Neil Johnson   Pete Lewis   Dave Enslow -
Neil Johnson Pete Lewis Dave Enslow
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By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

The saga of the Lake Tapps sale continued last week as the mayors of the three surrounding cities sent a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire concerning the purchase of the reservoir.

The mayors reacted to information received Jan. 10 concerning a new purchase agreement between Cascade Water Alliance, an eastside water wholesaler, and Puget Sound Energy, owner of the reservoir.

The three mayors - Neil Johnson of Bonney Lake, Auburn's Pete Lewis and Dave Enslow, Sumner - had made an offer to buy the lake in September 2007 for $33 million, which spurred the latest push by Cascade toward completing the purchase and securing the drinking water rights for the lake.

According to a draft of the letter forwarded to The Courier-Herald, it read, “the three communities continue to have a desire to purchase Lake Tapps for the benefit of the citizens and region in which it is located. The three cites stand ready to commit to a transaction for the purchase of this resource. It is our strong belief that local ownership and management of this important natural resource by the three cities, while benefiting the local communities, will benefit the state as a whole.”

Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Greenwater, delivered the letter to the governor and the Department of Ecology.

“We are all aware the process is moving forward with Cascade,” Hurst said. “But this is not over. The most important steps are the conditions of the water permit. (Pierce County Councilman) Shawn Bunney and I are continuing to do everything we can to make sure the interests of all parties are met.”

Ecology is preparing the final draft of the drinking water rights for the lake.

Hurst said the water rights permit must take into account lake levels and how those levels will impact the community around the lake.

The in-stream flows, or the amount of water in the White River after water has been diverted to Lake Tapps, will be a critical part of the permit. The in-stream flows directly affect the lake level.

A source close to negotiations between PSE and Cascade said the new agreement between the two parties involves about $25 million down and $5 million after the water rights are issued and legal challenges are cleared.

The first purchase proposal stated Cascade would pay $10 million down and $27 million after the water rights have cleared legal challenges.

Neither PSE nor Cascade have publicly disclosed the terms of the new agreement.

The final draft of the purchase agreement is expected to go before the Cascade Water Alliance board of directors on Feb. 27.

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

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