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Why have Yelm area residents been mute on water issues undertaken by the City of Yelm, which will affect everyone in and out of city limits?

I continue to be amazed at the City of Yelm officials’ favor of developers over the value of their small-town personna- from Wal-Mart to Tahoma Terra to Thurston Highlands, et al, under the guise of the monetary benefits to the city, all while “backseating” the very constituents they are supposed to serve.
I am aware of and realize that my tone may sometimes seem acerbic, however I believe that the “little guy/gal” that pays their taxes, spends their dollars and raises their children here deserve to be heard and have the effects of the city’s decisions on their future understood, considered and adhered to, above the monetary benefits to corporations and the town’s tax revenue- a true small-town America!

I raise these issues so our local community can be educated and hopefully desire to join with me to act in speaking out on this and other important issues that will affect our lives, our children’s & grandchildren’s for generations.

The following is one such issue I brought before the Yelm City Council on Janaury 9, 2007 with these questions:

-The City of Yelm has been looking at the potential to develop water rights in what is known as the SW Aquifer since it annexed that land in 1995. That was one of the chief forces behind the annexation.
-The area within city limits where this aquifer is located is currently on PRIVATELY OWNED LAND by the developers of Thurston Highlands.
-The Yelm City Council has approved almost $600,000 of taxpayer money for what is called the SW Aquifer Study to determine if there are enough water resources on the land where the private development of Thurston Highlands is to be built. An update was given the Yelm City Council in a December 12, 2006 Staff Report on the project.
-The City of Yelm has stated it desperately needs more water for the continued level of growth on which it has embarked.
-The City of Yelm has stated it has reached a point where there are not enough water resources to continue the current rate of developmental approval or to provide water for future developmental consideration.
-The City of Yelm’s development department does not approve developers applications without first proving the existence of a certified water resource [a determination there is enough water to support the needs of the homes & businesses].
-The Yelm City Council has publicly stated on several occasions that private, for-profit developments are going to be mitigated only with private money. That means taxpayer money from city coffers will not be used in a private developments application and/or approval.

Application & Contractual Questions:
-The City is entertaining the private development of Thurston Highlands without a certified water resource? Why?
-The City accepted the Thurston Highlands application without a certified water resource? Why?
If I applied to build a development, would the City allow me or any other developer to do so without first proving water availability?
-Is this preferential treatment for Thurston Highlands?

-The City Staff Report says Through the Conceptual Master Plan process for the Thurston Highlands community, there will be a determination on the pro-rata share of private financial participation towards this project. [this means that the costs of the water study will be divided between the city and the developer and that the split of those costs is yet to be determined.]
-Does the City of Yelm have a contract [including the pro-rata share] to develop water rights with the Thurston Highlands developers?
-If so, what is the formula?
-If none currently exists, how & when will that be determined?
-What limits, if any, have the developers put on their pro-rata share of the water study?
-Is this a blank-check issued by the City of Yelm to continue to fund a study for private property?
-What if the developers opt out of or default on the project? Has anyone thought of that as a possibility?
-Who would then pay the city for the developers share?

-This taxpayer-funded Aquifer study will provide support for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) & SEPA review for the Thurston Highlands project, yet the Yelm City Council has publicly stated on several occasions that private, for-profit developments are NOT going to be mitigated with public money. Why is the City of Yelm spending all of this taxpayer money to support a private developers application, without any monetary participation from the developer?

-If the City is fronting the money for this project in conjunction with Thurston Highlands, does the city taxpayer get interest back on the loan of their money on behalf of Thurston Highlands, and is that calculated in the formula for repayment from the developer?

-Mayor Harding responded to two of these questions I posed at the January 9, 2007 City Council meeting saying, “Steve, we’re not going to address your questions here tonight, however I will say you did not do your homework, as the city has been engaged in attempting to access the water in SW aquifer for years… and that the city was going to develop the water in the SW Aquifer study no matter what and if Thurston Highlands joins the City in that project, all the better for the city taxpayer with Thurston Highlands assisting to defray the costs of the study.” However, this is the DEVELOPERS’ PRIVATE LAND; the city DOES NOT own that property. The city has only accepted an application for the Thurston Highlands development. If the developer declines participation in the development of water, what is the city then going to do- condemn the land and take the water? If the developers agree to work with the city on a water rights transfer, where is the contract?

Conduct of Study Questions:
-The City has authorized spending almost $600,000 to date for the SW Aquifer Study, which does not include local stakeholders such as the City of Olympia, City of Lacey and the Nisqually Tribe, quoting the Staff Report. If almost $600,000 has been spent to produce a defensible mitigation plan [just] for the City of Yelm, then has the Yelm taxpayer & City Council considered the boatload of money required for evaluations of joint mitigation strategies with the Cities of Olympia and Lacey and the Nisqually Tribe” yet to come [meaning Yelm will be working with Olympia, Lacey & the Tribe about this aquifer’s use in the future]? Councilman Bob Isom expressed his concern for continued additional taxpayer funds requested from city staff for this study at the December 12, 2006 Council meeting. Does Mr. Isom, the Mayor & City Council know all of the other forthcoming expenditure requests for this work? Where are those amounts budgeted?

-How can the City of Yelm produce a “defensible mitigation plan” without a contract from the owners of the land with the water, Thurston Highlands? How is that a defensible mitigation plan?

-Why are assumptions, as stated in the December 12, 2006 City of Yelm Staff Report, being used for the preparation of a study of such magnitude?
What type of engineering principle does this represent?

-How does the City of Yelm propose to recharge the deeper aquifer as required by state law, with the amounts of withdrawal-water being contemplated? How would the city put this large amount of water back into the aquifer and what is the funding source for such? How would such a large amount of treated water being reintroduced into the aquifer affect it and private home-owner wells?

-The Yelm City Administrator, Shelley Badger, has been responding to water issues for the City of Yelm like a technical hydrologist. Why does Ms. Badger have this responsibility and is she qualified to act in this capacity? Does the job description of the City Administrator encompass representation for the city in the capacity of a technical hydrologist in these matters?

-Should the city be using a non-local hydro-geological multi-national corporation (Golder Associates, Inc.) as a consultant in these matters; one who has no interests here?
Would it not make sense to have the city staff acquire the services of a more local professional to represent and protect the citys interests in this matter with the amounts of money involved; for example, an impartial third party to advise, check and supervise these contractual affairs (i.e. one might liken this situation to an architect or engineer that supervises a building project for a client)?

Bottom line: I would like to see these issues addressed on behalf of the City of Yelm property owner and taxpayer, in particular and area residents affected for generations by these actions. I believe Council member Isoms concerns are valid and warranted and should be sending a red-flag to our community to seek answers.

What say you AND what are you going to do about this matter?

What can you do?
You can write the City Administrator and request answers to these questions and others you might have, copying the Mayor and City Council.

You can also write the Nisqually Valley News publisher and demand they do an investigation for the upliftment & awareness of their community to get answers to these questions. After all, his newspaper won an investigative journalism award in 2006 by the Washington Newspaper Publisher’s Association for their work in reporting how many times a day my wife & I flushed our toilets in our home while I ran for mayor. smile. Their reporter was at the City Council meeting on January 9th and reported nothing about the SW Aquifer issue in the January 12 newspaper.

Posted by Steve on January 14, 2007 at 7:46 am | Permalink

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  1. Hi Steve, you mention that taxpayers and homeowners should say something or speak up, I agree. So do we write to the mayor? The city council people? Where do we send it? Also, if you live in Rainier, or Tenino is it affecting the surrounding areas? I live in Rainier. I’m a little naive about these issues, but I’d like to be more knowledgeable.


    Comment by Melissa on January 14, 2007 at 9:45 am

  2. Yes, Melissa,

    You can write the Mayor and City Council and City Administrator Shelly Badger.

    This will paricularly affect those residents downstream from the aquifer (meaning those north and west) because the volume of water pulled from the acquifer will affect the quality of water coming from their wells.
    Further, the city must recharge the aquifer with what the amount removed, meaning treated water is put back at the proposed 1.2 million gallons per day. How is the city going to recharge that volume of water? A Cocrhane Park type project or watering baseball fields will not recharge that amount.

    Comment by Steve Klein on January 14, 2007 at 9:55 am

  3. Steve,

    Once again your investigative skills shine!
    As Melissa asked, what can we do that is effective, esp. if we live outside the city limits?
    The City Council’s attitude during the Wal-Mart discussions seemed to be that anyone ouside the incorporated city, who objected to council actions, was considered an outside agitator.

    It is true that the development of Thurston Highlands will not impact me directly, however I still feel that Yelm is my city.

    What if one of us put some of the facts from your posting in a letter to the NVN? Or did the same to the City Council, the City Administrator and the Development board. And/or is there someone in the county or state that has some jurisdiction in the matter that we could contact?

    Comment by Tom Dewell on January 14, 2007 at 12:44 pm

  4. Hi Tom,

    What you suggest would be wonderful — writing to City officials and the NVN and get community interest going. Get a letter writing campaign to the newspapers (Olympian included since this will eventually involve Olympia, Lacey & the Tribe) requesting the Yelm City Council to address these issues.
    You don’t think this will affect people outside of the city? Think again. The city cannot pull 1.2 million gallons daily from the aquifer and not affect
    other wells around here outside city limits. The aquifer is like a huge underground river. Plus, the re-introduction of that much TREATED water back into into the aquifer where our drinking water comes from you KNOW will cause problems.
    And, where IS the contract between the city and the private land owner? If there is none and the land owners do not go along with the transfer to the city of their water rights, then what is the city going to do? If the Thuston Highlands developers do go along and sign a contract, what part will they pay for essentially an EIS & SEPA review for their property currently funded by city taxpayers?

    Comment by Steve Klein on January 14, 2007 at 2:33 pm

  5. Dear [NVN ] Editor:

    With Thurston Highlands proposed 5,000 homes snaking its way through the Community Development process building its case for presentation to the Yelm City Council, I wanted to direct attention to the flooding situation on Thompson Creek. As a long-time resident of the Yelm area I am familiar with the flooding habits of this area.

    Because of my interest in our community, I attended the first Thurston Highlands Open House held in April 2006 at the Middle School. In my conversation with their environmental representative, it was clear that he knew nothing of the flooding history on this land. I referred him to a presentation that Community Development Director; Grant Beck had done for the Yelm Chamber of Commerce I think it was. It was still posted on the city website at the time. It was filled with aerial photos, clearly showing how devastating the water levels were.

    I also spoke to the person taking requests for issues to be covered in a future Environment Impact Statement. I listed the flooding issue and others.

    My question, today, to this same environmental representative employed by Thurston Highlands is, What impacts have these current storms had on the aquifer and the drinking water in the area he is presently studying? With this recent weather can he determine a certified water resource? Is he expected to or has the taxpayer, under the leadership of the Yelm City Councils $600,000 SW Aquifer Study done his job for him?

    I am requesting Thurston Highlands get a copy of Mr. Beck’s speech for their records. It is also, I believe, incumbent upon them and the Community Development office to include this history in an EIS and to record the effects of this Fall and Winter precipitation and its consequences on the Thurston Highland property and surrounding land and streets.

    These actions or inactions will have repercussions for many years to come.

    Comment by Jean Handley on January 15, 2007 at 7:56 pm

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