Counties to spar in court over sewage treatment plant - Growth Management hearings board overstepped its authority, says Snohomish County

By Victor Balta
The Daily Herald Writer


Snohomish County, WA - Snohomish County residents don't like King County telling them what to do.

Apparently, county officials don't like it either.

This week, the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney's Office filed a lawsuit appealing a ruling that says the county doesn't have a say in where the new Brightwater sewage treatment plant goes.

King County isn't taking the suit lying down. Officials there have filed a motion to move the case to Thurston County, saying they don't believe they can get a fair trial in Snohomish County.

King County plans to build a 114-acre, $1.35 billion sewage treatment plant on Highway 9 just north of Highway 522.

Snohomish County says the regional Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board ruling in October overstepped its authority.

"The Washington state constitution grants all counties police power authority -- essentially, we're allowed to regulate for the public health, safety and welfare," said Millie Judge, head of land-use and environmental law in the civil division of the Snohomish County Prosecutor's Office.

"Somehow, police power authority is stripped away. It's a huge overstatement of what the Growth Management Act does.

"This is something that board has come up with on its own. That's why we're objecting."

The growth board ordered Snohomish County to rewrite its ordinance by Jan. 14. But the lawsuit appeals the decision and was filed alongside a motion to stay the deadline until the appeal is resolved.

All the motions will be heard Thursday in Snohomish County Superior Court.

The growth board ruled earlier that Snohomish County's ordinance for where essential public facilities can locate is unfair. And the board says a local government may not second-guess the board's decision.

The Snohomish County ordinance's "fundamental flaw" is that it could allow outright denial of all essential public facilities, the board's ruling says.

Essential public facilities include projects needed to serve the public interest such as schools, hospitals or jails. State law makes exceptions for those projects because they are generally not welcomed by the public.

Snohomish County contends that the growth management hearings board's decision is giving more weight to the Growth Management Act than it is intended to have.

The act, passed by the state Legislature in 1990, was designed to outline how growth would occur, because the Legislature believed that uncoordinated and unplanned growth posed a threat to the environment, sustainable economic development and the quality of life in Washington.

Both King and Snohomish counties agree that Brightwater qualifies as an essential public facility, but Snohomish County's ordinance passed in February would have given it some say in where the plant goes.

The ordinance did require Brightwater to go through a conditional-use process, which would have given Snohomish County the chance to determine whether the project met certain conditions. The county's hearing examiner would have had the chance to approve the project, approve it with conditions, or deny it.

The plant is expected to treat 36 million gallons of sewage per day, eventually expanding to 54 million gallons. It is scheduled to be operating by 2010.

King County says it's needed because its two other plants, in Seattle and Renton, will be at capacity by then.

While built in Snohomish County, the pipeline route to the outfall in Puget Sound would go through King County. Officials say 60 percent of the effluent treated at Brightwater would come from Snohomish County.

King County officials and outside attorneys representing that county could not be reached Friday.

Reporter Victor Balta: 425-339-3455 or


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