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Group of nine signs pact with PSE

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By Dennis Box, The Courier-Herald

Call a meeting and they will come.

More than 350 people from the Lake Tapps community converged on the North Tapps Middle School auditorium April 27 to hear the particulars of a lake management agreement signed by the group of nine and Puget Sound Energy March 31.

The group of nine are seven homeowner associations and two community organizations set up to save Lake Tapps.

Community members listened to five speakers outline what lay ahead for the lake and the more than 1,800 homeowners along its shores.

"The agreement is most definitely a milestone," said Leon Stucki, a coordinator and spokesman for the group of nine. "We were coming from a gentleman's agreement with Puget (Sound Energy), which they have always honored. But we are facing uncertain future and we can't bet on a gentleman's agreement."

The agreement states PSE will maintain recreational lake levels for eight months from April 15 to Oct. 31.

The homeowners, along with local governments, will provide a boat management plan to regulate and manage boating activity on the lake.

The community will also set up a voluntary lake watch program. This is a program for the homeowners to act as the eyes and the ears of the lake, but it does not involve enforcement.

The third part of the agreement is for the community to act as a communication conduit between PSE and the homeowners and provide a hotline number for lake information.

The signed agreement is one step in a long process, which began seven years ago, to save the lake. In 1997 the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC) issued license requirements making operation of the PSE's White River hydroelectric facility economically impossible to operate, in the eyes of PSE.

PSE closed its hydroelectric facility on Jan. 15.

"The message we wanted to get out in the meeting was we have come a long way," Stucki said. "But it's not over yet. If we blindly stop working we can get bit big time."

While a general sense of optimism and hope was present in the packed auditorium, there was a strong undertow of anxiety about the future.

"This community works well together and we need to stand together and complete the job we've started," Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney said. "But the biggest future challenge are federal and state bureaucrats who don't care about the lake. These folks walked into our process and said, 'why bother, we think the lake is dead.' We have to be careful about a group of bureaucrats who don't care about our interest or the lake's."

Fish biologist Steve Fransen of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries stated Lake Tapps is no longer a federal project, but will be an issue for state agencies.

"My agency does not have a direct federal nexus without the FERC license," Fansen said. "Without the hydroelectric plant it's not a federal project. It's a state project."

One issue of great concern in the community is the flow of water into and out of the lake.

"We have good flows now, but we must be diligent about protecting flows in the long term," Bunney said. "In the interest of saving fish, these agencies could create an environmental nightmare."

Without the proper flows there is concern the lake could become a dead sea.

"As NOAA has told any and all parties," Fansen said, "we think the White River has enough surplus water to maintain Lake Tapps, to maintain lake levels, but there is not enough water to flush away sewer and effluents. Many urban and suburban lakes have water quality problems. For many years Lake Tapps has had a large quantity of water flowing in and out, flushing effluents. But the benefits of the hydroelectric plant are no longer there. They have their own responsibility and they need to step up to the plate and deal with the problem."

PSE has acquired a consumptive water right for the Lake and intends to sell it to Cascade Water Alliance. Cascade would use the lake as a municipal water supply for King and Pierce county communities.

The water right is facing an appeal before the Pollution Control Hearing Board. That appeal was brought by the Puyallup and Muckleshoot Indian tribes, the cities of Auburn, Buckley, Pacific, Algona and a private citizen.

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com

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