Editors note: This is the first of a two-part series. The second part, an interview with Kittitas County Water District 7 Commissioner Carl B. Nelson will be published tomorrow online and in Saturday’s print edition.

Tensions ran high and emotions flew at the Sunlight Waters clubhouse Wednesday night as approximately 30 residents looked for answers to a recently enacted moratorium on water availability.

Although the moratorium doesn’t affect homeowners, any landowners who are looking to build and do not have a current Water Availability Affidavit will not be able to do so for an indefinite period.

A notice issued to residents explained that the moratorium was placed by the Department of Health as part of a review of system capacity. Water rights for the development were originally granted in 1969, with the amount and rate being set at 40 gallons per minute. Due to growth of the community, a temporary permit was granted in 1993 to raise the withdraw rate to 150 gallons per minute. The temporary permit was apparently never made permanent partially due to ongoing litigation within the county. The Department of Health and Department of Ecology recently required the Kittitas County Water District No. 7 to complete a Water System Plan, which was completed this spring. According to the notice, the plan is currently under review by both departments, and the first meeting with the water district took place on Sept. 9. The moratorium will stay in place until the review is completed, effectively limiting options for those who wish to build during that time period.

AN INDEFINITE WAIT

According to the commissioners, there has been no time estimate given by the departments of Health and Ecology as to when the review will be completed. This has caused problems for many landowners that had hopes of building this season. Cle Elum resident Steve Scott is one of them. Scott had plans to begin construction on a spec home in the community this fall, but those plans have now been put on hold. When he purchased his property, he said he was not informed that having a water connection did not automatically come with an affidavit allowing him to build.

“I did not know,” he said. “I bought a lot. It had water. It had a water meter. Now to tell me I have a meter, but I can’t use it. I have a signed contract to build a house, and now that’s in jeopardy. Now I don’t know if I can.”

Scott said many residents were in the dark that even if they had an affidavit, they expire after one year.

“Nobody knew that,” he said. “Nobody knew they expired.”

During the meeting, the commission outlined that there are 225 active connections in the community. According to Commissioner Carl B. Nelson, who completed the Water Study Plan, there are 155 structures either completed or under construction that are using water. Scott said since there aren’t anywhere close to 70 people currently looking to build, he doesn’t understand why those that do can’t build on their connections.

“Why can’t we sign up to that point,” he asked. “Nobody’s balking about going over the 225, everybody’s just saying why can’t we get to what you say we have.”

The confusion goes further, with Scott saying that he knows of residents that have had active construction going on that have to stop in their tracks due to the moratorium. He also was under the belief that he had his ducks in a row before the moratorium was placed, which seemingly ended up not being the case.

“It’s a bunch of weird things going on that make no sense,” he said.

Scott said the solution to this problem would be to simply package the affidavit with the fees related to the water connection and meter installation.

“It should just come with it,” he said. “Why would it not?”

As winter looms, it’s clear Scott will most likely not be able to begin construction on the house before the season restricts him. For him, this raises questions about whether he will be able to get the house built while the housing market is still strong in the region. If he chose to sell his property before the moratorium is lifted, it would come at a major financial loss.

“Is this going to ruin me, I don’t know,” he said. “Should I backpedal? I don’t know. It’s useless land. Nobody wants to buy land just to go water it.”

PROTECTING THE COMMUNITY

Another project that aims at benefiting the community has also been placed on hold due to the moratorium. Kittitas County Fire District 1 has plans to build a station on land owned by the community. The lot was once the location of the caretaker’s trailer, which burned during the Taylor Ridge Fire. Despite the structure burning, the lot still has power, water and septic. Fire Chief Brandon Schmidt said the existing connections made the lot an easy choice to build the station.

Schmidt said the station is being built with a combination of existing tax dollars and a bank loan, so the money is in place and ready to go. He said there is existing equipment that can be moved to the station and one of the department’s most active volunteers lives in the community. He said they were hoping to start construction as soon as the snow melts, completing the station by summer 2020. Since there was previously a structure on the lot that burned, but the connections are still active, Schmidt said the department seems to be in a gray area in its situation.

“If someone’s house burned down right now, are they not able to rebuild their house on that current feed?” he asked. “It’s essentially the same thing, where we’re looking to put a building where there’s already been one.”

The moratorium is recent enough that Scott is actively working on a plan to communicate his concerns to the departments of Ecology and Health. One of the concerns he plans on outlining is that part of their planning process is applying for grant money for the project. If they are given grant money for the project and the moratorium isn’t lifted in time to use it, the money must be given back.

“This starts raising a lot of questions about how far we actually get into that before we know it’s going to be able to happen,” he said. “That causes problems for future grants and things like that, because if you give it back, a lot of times you lose that money in the next go around. If we’re going to try to apply for that grant for something else later down the road, we pretty much kiss that goodbye if we applied for that money, were granted it and didn’t use it.”

Schmidt said a 50-year lease agreement has been set up with the community in return for fire protection services, which significantly raise the fire protection rating for the community.

“It has drastic implications on people’s homeowner’s insurance rates and the ability to get homeowner’s insurance for those who want to build,” he said. “Anymore, it’s not a done deal when you go to apply for it out in rural areas, especially with a lot of the fires that we’ve had and homes that have been destroyed. Insurance companies will say that you’re too far from a fire station.”

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