Offer for Lake Tapps on hold

By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

Round one goes to Cascade Water Alliance, but the next few rounds could get interesting.

A bid to buy Lake Tapps by Bonney Lake, Auburn and Sumner for $33 million has been turned down by Puget Sound Energy, according to Bonney Lake Mayor Neil Johnson.

Johnson - along with Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Greenwater, and mayors Pete Lewis of Auburn and Dave Enslow of Sumner - met with Kimberly Harris, executive vice president and chief resource officer at PSE and Ed Schild, director of hydroelectric resources, Sept. 26 at Sumner City Hall. Harris officially told the mayors and Hurst thanks, but no thanks, for now.

“Their position is they cannot enter into an offer at this time,” Hurst said. “But they took the offer very seriously.”

Johnson said Harris told them the utility company, owner of the lake, was bound to an exclusive negotiation agreement between PSE and Cascade.

On the surface all systems appear to be moving toward Cascade Water Alliance completing the deal to buy the lake.

Cascade, a nonprofit eastside water alliance, offered $37 million with $10 million for the initial purchase and the $27 million balance due after the drinking water rights clear legal challenges.

The cities proposed to pay $33 million when the purchase and sale agreement was signed.

Mike Gagliardo, general manager for Cascade, said earlier in September he felt the deal with PSE could be completed in about two months.

Sources close to the various parties have said the cities' offer may have prompted Cascade to change the terms of its offer, likely moving some or all of the money up front, before legal challenges are cleared.

There are serious questions on the side of the Lake Tapps community members and city officials whether Cascade is willing to address their needs for both recreation levels of the lake and drinking water.

“I still think it is wide open,” Johnson said. “I think we will still have an opportunity at a later date. I'm not sold that Cascade can close the deal. If they were not able to close the deal in a number of years what makes you think you can do it in a number of months?”

Both Auburn and Bonney Lake will need to purchase water from some outside source in five to 10 years. Sumner has less urgent need for water, but it will also have to purchase water in the future.

“I hope the message gets out that they (Cascade) needs to work with the communities around the lake,” Johnson said. “It can't be a good deal for only east King County. They need to look at us as partners, not just regular customers. The lake is part of our city.”

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