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Task force anticipates six-year success story

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By Dennis Box

The Courier-Herald

Members of the Lake Tapps Task Force and homeowners around the lake met Thursday at the Bonney Lake Senior Center and considered what looks to be a brighter future.

The meeting was lead by Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg.

Members and homeowners were given details of the sale of the lake, divergence dam, flume and closed White River hydroelectric plant to Cascade Water Alliance for $10 million - or a total of $37 million if the drinking water rights are approved by the state Department of Ecology.

The lake has been owned and operated by Puget Sound Energy since 1911.

"The state is not quite ready to issue the rights yet," said Mike Gagliardo, general manager of Cascade. "But it's getting close. We are still working on some things. We would like a water right that incorporates some of the issues we are negotiating. We hope to avert an appeal if possible."

With the April 27 sale of the lake to Cascade, an eastside water purveyor, the water rights issue is considered to be the last hurdle in the six-year race to save the lake.

"I think we are on the final lap to success," Bunney said. "If we keep diligently working good things will happen."

Task force members and homeowners noted the improved outlook with the sale of the lake.

"We would like to thank Puget Power for sticking with this," said homeowner Leon Stucki during the meeting. "It's been an interesting journey."

The meeting was designed to bring the community information about the sale of the lake, the construction of a new White River diversion dam, boat management agreement and water rights.

"It has taken us six years to get here," said Sumner Mayor Barbara Skinner, one of the task force members. "If we didn't have Cascade Water Alliance we would have had to start a company like them. We're lucky they came along."

Ecology granted the drinking water rights to PSE in June 2003. After an appeal by the Puyallup and Muckleshoot tribes and the cities of Auburn, Pacific, Algona and Buckley, along with a private citizen, Robert Cook, the Pollution Control Hearings Board sent the decision back to Ecology to be reconsidered in light of the closing of the hydroelectric plant.

If the rights are re-issued, Cascade will build a water treatment plant and the lake will become a drinking water reservoir around 2025.

Rep. Jan Shabro said it was good to see the group, which she helped form in the spring of 1999 when she was a County Council member, continuing to move forward.

"Despite all the ups and downs and twist and turns the group has kept going," Shabro said. "This is the only group in the nation that has pulled something like this off. It is one of a kind."

Shabro said in April 1999 it became clear the lake was in trouble.

"It hit the beginning of that year," Shabro said. "I marched down to Doug's (Sutherland's) office and said we've got to do something. This is absolutely a success story."

At the time Doug Sutherland was Pierce County executive.

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

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