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Yesterday, a judge heard arguments in a bankruptcy case involving the owners of Thurston Highlands, a 1,250-acre property in Yelm. Owners Steve Chamberlain and his partner, Dr. Paul Liao have different views on how to move forward in the future. As I mentioned last week, this has been a sad affair for all involved.
CLICK HERE to read The Olympian’s report on yesterday’s bankruptcy hearing.

However, there is now a much larger, yet unreported story going on here in Yelm as a result of the city’s actions about the defaulted properties of Thurston Highlands & Tahoma Terra.

Yelm’s Draft Water System Plan (WSP), a 6 year operating document covering 2009-2015 that is the foundation for a final, approved and enacted Water System Plan, has not been approved by the Depts. of Health or Ecology, yet the City Council voted to allow water rate increases based on this unapproved WSP, which includes almost $71 million for water system improvements in the Thurston Highlands area, yet provides no details as to how the public will be reimbursed if that mutli-planned community (MPC) was not built and those water infrastructure expenses were not incurred.

This action resulted in a 16% water rate increase last summer, another 16% water rate increase April 1st of this year, and subsequent 8.25% water rate increases from 2011-2015 voted in by Yelm’s City Council. Think about it, Yelm water rate-payers will pay a 32% rate increase on their basic water rate from early last summer to this Spring alone.

I provide details & supporting documents to verify what I state:

1. Link to the City of Yelm Draft Water System Plan (WSP)

2. Link to the City of Yelm Ordinance 918 approved March 9, 2010 enacting water rate increases for April 1, 2010 & 2011-2015

3. Dept. of Health letter to the City of Yelm stating the city’s Draft WSP was not approved & what the city must do for the Draft WSP to be approved

Please note at the bottom under WATER RIGHTS, the letter references the City’s stated water rights are not consistent with Dept. of Ecology records. The City of Yelm is currently in negotiations with Ecology on what the two can agree upon are Yelm’s actual water rights. Once that is resolved and announced, in all likelihood, the City of Yelm will be found over-pumping their Ecology-allocated, acre-feet per-year in 2009, as they continued to issue building permits when they knew they did not have enough water. This led to the City Council voting to seize a citizen’s water rights last year.
The city’s imminent domain document to seize those citizens’ rights
Also, the Mr. Klein who signed the DOH letter is not related to me.

4. A January, 2007 letter from City Administrator Shelly Badger indicating the city had no contract for the taxpayer to get reimbursed for the $550,003 authorized for a water study the City Council funded for the purpose of a development on private property (Thurston Highlands).
The City Council later raised the amount of funding the study to over 2/3 of a million dollars.
While $350,000 was from a state grant, this is still taxpayer money

5. In response to my FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request, this response from 2009 by the then-City Community and Government Relations Coordinator stating the city has no documents for the city to get repaid for the Water Study

6. Yet, Badger is on-record saying the pro-rata share of the water study, and I quote will be determined from the Thurston Highlands impact analysis completed during the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and stated as a condition of the Conceptual Master Plan.” However, the city continued working on the Thurston Highlands EIS until the November, 2008 EIS public release, two months after Thurston Highlands, LLC entered into default and three months after the city invoiced Thurston Highlands, LLC for services rendered, yet remained unpaid in violation of the Agreement for Conceptual Master Site Plan

7. The Thurston Highlands impact analysis completed with the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), says nothing about Yelm getting reimbursed for the Water Study, or what happens if the developer does not build or pulls out of the project. The developers are now in default and left the city taxpayer with their unpaid taxes & bills.
The Thurston Highlands, LLC Final EIS

8. The City has not been totally up-front and in serving the public’s interest by saying the Golder Water Study expenditure was not for an MPC. If the Golder Water Study and the city’s Draft Water System Plan are not for an MPC, then why has the city been looking to build a whole new system out in the south west area (location of Thurston Highlands)?
If not to support an MPC there, the city would have no need to spend the money on miles of pipes and other infrastructure to the tune of $11.4 million, and raise water customers rates to pay for this when the city already has enough infrastructure to support current and future customers by simply upgrading their existing system.
Chapter 8.8 of the Draft Water System Plan:

9. Chamberlain & co-developer Doug Bloom were owners of the Tahoma Valley Golf Course in Yelm & transferred the Golf Course’s water rights to the city for a credit to bring the Course’s water to the city with their application for the 5,000-home Thurston Highlands development. However, when Bloom & Chamberlain defaulted, the city was left with the Golf Course well project, “previously assumed to be fully developer-constructed and then to be turned over to the city, is now required to be 100% City-funded at a cost estimated to be $1.6 million”.
Now, Yelm water rate-payers will bear these costs.
The aforementioned quote is from the City’s Draft Water System Plan, Chapter 9, page 13

10. A newspaper ad taken out by JZ Knight in the NVN & The Olympian in mid-2009 addresses some of the “spin” by City Hall on the water issue that is not supported by the city’s facts or the city’s own documents

Now, Yelm city residents are left holding the bag on all of these things one would think are made-up, if the provided documents did not reveal the extent the city lacked protecting the public’s interests with these developments – protecting the public’s interest their number one responsibility.
A 32% water rate increase in 10 months speaks volumes.
This is an in-depth story in and of itself is not covered by any newspaper out here.

For four years, my inquires and comments about the city’s responsibility in protecting the public’s interests on this very issue have been put asunder every step of the way by Mayor Harding, Mayor Pro-tem Isom, the Yelm City Council, City Development Director Grant Beck & City Administrator Shelly Badger.

And last, least you think I am involved in this city’s issues “just to cause chaos” as Mayor Harding described some in his NVN column today, I leave you with this question to ponder for yourself:

How is the Yelm water-rate payer going to be reimbursed for their water bill payments that go to support infrastructure costs for a multi-planned community, as outlined in some no-longer-valid & still-unapproved Draft Water System Plan, all while the city keeps increasing rates annually to cover those expenses through 2015?

The true chaos is from a City Hall not up-front with its constituents about why a 32% water rate increase within a year has been placed on the backs of city residents, the very people who are city administrators’ own friends and neighbors.

Posted by Steve on March 19, 2010 at 1:46 am | Permalink

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