CHELAN — Public outcry will likely quash the Bear Mountain Water District’s attempt to force 155 property owners along Lake Chelan’s south shore to pay for a $2.5 million municipal water line, the district’s lawyer said Thursday.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” Wenatchee attorney Mark Peterson said of the fate of district commissioners’ Feb. 15 decision to move forward with a plan to create the “Lake Frontage Utility Local Improvement District (LID)”
“Because there has been so much push-back from the frontage lots, I expect to see commissioners will be very responsive to that and will think about what’s in the community’s best interest,” Peterson said.
If approved as proposed, the district’s 155 property owners would each have to pay $16,500 to cover the water line’s $2.5 million cost, even if they choose not to hook up to it, Peterson said. Property owners could pay all at once or make yearly payments with interest — roughly $1,200 annually per parcel — over 20 years.
Before it can create the Frontage LID, the water district must annex more land. An annexation petition signed by approximately five property owners has already been presented and would about double its jurisdiction to roughly 3,000 acres.
Peterson says the district has the needed support of owners of at least 60 percent of the lands to be annexed to add the extra land.
What’s still uncertain, he says, is whether the district will have the needed support to form the LID. For this process, the district must show that that owners of at least 40 percent of the proposed LID area lands don’t object to the LID.
The $16,500 assessment would come regardless of property size — a half-acre shoreline property would pay as much as upland property many times larger that could eventually be subdivided and developed into multiple home sites.
Another problem, say the many owners of the small shoreline lots, is that they don’t need municipal water and don’t want to be forced to pay for it.
Currently each of these shoreline homes has its own system of pump, storage tanks and filters to transfer water from the lake into their homes’ plumbing systems. Each homeowner maintains their own system.
Dozens of affected property owners, potentially more than 50 according to Peterson’s estimate, packed a March 29 public hearing hosted by the water district to discuss the LID. Typically no one other than the three board members and Peterson attend the meetings.
Approximately 40 opponents have hired Wenatchee attorney Chuck Zimmerman to help them persuade Bear Mountain to abandon its plan.
In an April 2 letter to Bear Mountain Water District commissioners, Zimmerman lays out a long list of perceived procedural missteps that he says should halt or slow any water district effort to move forward.
His objections include:
<> No analysis to confirm the benefit each property owner would receive from having access to municipal water. Such an analysis could justify or dispute the $16,500 per-property-assessment each land owner would be required to pay.
<> One of the water district commissioners who voted to move ahead with the LID at the Feb. 15 meeting was Robert Jankelson, a “board member with a significant conflict of financial interest,” the letter says, because his own parcels totaling nearly 127 acres fall within the proposed LID area and stand to benefit. Jankelson owns Tsillan Cellars winery. He has since resigned from the water board.
<> The relatively few property owners who support the proposed LID appear to hold so much land that all the many other property owners combined couldn’t make up the 40 percent land mass necessary to reject the LID.
Peterson says he hasn’t yet read Zimmerman’s letter, but procedural errors are an easy fix.
“From my perspective… what’s more important are the merits of the situation,” Peterson said. “It shows the difference between a municipal perception and the public perception. Water districts exist to pursue water pipe resource solutions for an area. At some point, it’s all going to be interconnected and served by a municipal system. It’s just a question of when.”
The district is trying to stay ahead of the eventual need for municipal water by doing its annexation and extending municipal water now, before the area becomes more developed, the need for water increases and costs to install a water line are much higher.
It’s in the process of trying to create two other LIDs to serve other areas poised for residential development. Property owners in one of those areas, Hawks Meadow, have already rejected the LID due to perceived high cost.
A typical property owner, Peterson says, doesn’t look that far into the future, he said.
Equity problems exist no matter the calculation used to figure how much each property owner should be assessed to cover the installation costs of a new water line.
Small water districts with limited resources like Bear Mountain typically talk to area real estate agents and other land evaluators to informally determine the value added by a major water project. This differs from a more formal analysis of added value that cities or better-funded agencies might perform, he said.
On former commissioner Jankelson’s conflict of interest, Peterson added, “His track record is a mile wide and he’s already got what he needs — water, fire protection. His property is fully developed as a winery under a business model that doesn’t appear as if it would take advantage of subdivisions.”
The water district’s decision to move ahead with the LID necessitated mailing letters describing the plan and asking for feedback from all affected property owners.
The feedback letters have been overwhelmingly opposed to the LID, Peterson said, adding that many of them contain thoughtful reasoning that water district commissioners may not otherwise have considered. The public comment period ended April 8.
“The municipal side of me is dead certain that this is the right time to do it,” Peterson said of extending the water line. “But individual circumstances could make it entirely inappropriate for them (individual property owners). The public hearings were rather poignant to me in driving home that difference in perspective.”