Lake Tapps owners wary of eminent domain bill

Published: April 14th, 2007 01:00 AM

Pierce County, WA - Allowing an east King County water group the power to condemn property in Pierce County is an idea that doesn’t float with some Lake Tapps property owners.

House Bill 1561 would grant the full power of eminent domain for utility purposes to the Cascade Water Alliance, a group of eight cities and water districts primarily in the Bellevue area.

Property owners can breathe easier after the bill failed to meet Friday’s deadline for a state Senate vote after it had easily passed the House. But even if it doesn’t pass this year, it could return next session.

The director of the group calls it a technical request and says the alliance isn’t about to take away million-dollar lakefront properties.

But Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney, who lives at Lakes Tapps and represents that area, said earlier this week that he had concerns.

The alliance is in the process of buying and taking control of Lake Tapps from Puget Sound Energy to provide water to King County. Bunney acknowledges it needs some authority to build infrastructure such as pipelines.

But unfettered power to condemn property for public utility use is another matter, he said, particularly when the people of Pierce County can’t vote for the alliance board members, even though all are elected.

“We should be asking careful questions” about the breadth of this power, Bunney said.

The idea that the alliance might take lakefront property for water storage or other purposes sometime in the future is worth considering, he said.

Chuck Romeo, president of the Lake Tapps Community Council, said the bill “hit us below the belt out of the clear blue.” The words eminent domain are inherently scary to property owners, he said.

The Community Council met Thursday night to discuss the bill and its impacts. The City of Auburn also has questions about the bill and had offered an amendment that would restrict use of eminent domain to obtaining land for a water transmission line. The bill also refers to storage of water.

Though Auburn has no waterfront land at Lake Tapps, the city is contemplating annexations south of the lake and wants residents there to know they have their interests at heart.

Carolyn Robertson, the city’s government services director, said the bill would make the alliance the only nongovernment entity in the state with such a power.

Michael Gagliardi, executive director of the alliance, called the bill a technical measure to allow more efficient operation as the alliance builds a transmission line from Lake Tapps to Bellevue.

He pointed out that regular water utilities in the state have condemnation powers, as do all members of the alliance individually.

Gagliardi said the request for eminent domain includes water storage because it sometimes is needed along a transmission line. Thus far, he said they are negotiating with property owners for rights of way and have no need to condemn property. He said the idea of taking lakefront property for more water storage might be possible but isn’t practical.

Mike Archbold: 253-597-8692



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