Wastewater power plays

As reported in January, the Columbia River Economic Development Council’s latest study showed a serious lack of large, shovel-ready spaces for businesses.

The article, “Few places to build jobs,” included a significant hurdle, the lack of sewers in north county, and said after years of heated negotiations, the cities of Ridgefield and Battle Ground, the county’s public works department and the Clark Regional Wastewater District are expected to sign a final agreement on a regional sewer plan.

Under the plan, according to a Memorandum of Understanding, the four partners plan to make substantial investments in infrastructure and operations “to address the future economic and environmental needs of their respective communities, and recognize that regional cooperation will assist in meeting those needs.”

Commissioners hope the agreement leads to reduced rates because more users will be paying into the system.

Initial agreements are being signed, but there a few sticking points.

The new entity wouldn’t be operational until January 2014.

During discussions Wednesday, Commissioner Steve Stuart said milestones need to be set.

“If we don’t see a reduction in rates and lower costs for businesses, I’m going to be looking to dissolve this,” he said.

Pete Capell, the county’s public works director, said more businesses need to come in so there will be a lower cost for everyone. He emphasized that sewer is key infrastructure and this will stimulate economic development not only in Ridgefield and Battle Ground but also redevelopment in Hazel Dell, parts of which, as Stuart has noted many times, need a makeover.

Capell said the Clark Regional Wastewater District and the Ridgefield City Council have endorsed the plan, and the Battle Ground City Council is expected to endorse it even though Capell said he doesn’t expect it to be an unanimous vote.

Stuart and Tom Mielke asked why, in the MOU, there’s a stipulation that the county and the cities of Ridgefield and Battle Ground will have a separate MOU over the land at Interstate 5 and state Highway 502.

The land is in unincorporated Clark County, an area over which commissioners have control. Why do we have to put it in writing, Stuart and Mielke asked, when the state’s Growth Management Act already requires counties to work with cities?

King Stuart wanted to make sure the cities weren’t going to get the county to “abdicate” its power.

No, said Commissioner Marc Boldt, who has been doing the negotiations. It’s just to reassure the cities that the county will work with them because the cities don’t want the county to put retail on that land.

So if all the agreements do get signed, what will this partnership be called? The working title is “Clark Clean Water Alliance.”

Stuart, for one, would prefer a different name.

“We’re talking about sewer,” Stuart said. “(“Clark Clean Water Alliance”) is a little flowery.”

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