Legislators discuss solutions after concerns with Ecology’s shutdown of exempt wells

Fear of long-term local ramifications lead to legislative meeting

Legislators from the 13th, 14th and 15th Districts met yesterday with realtors and home builders who contacted them with concerns about the future of economic growth in the south central Washington region.

Two weeks ago the Department of Ecology (DOE) imposed a 120-day emergency moratorium on withdrawals of groundwater from exempt wells in the upper Yakima basin near Cle Elum, sending a wave of fear among landowners and the local business community. The agency repealed part of the moratorium to exclude those who had already invested financially in the drilling of wells that were previously approved. However, according to the Kittitas County Association of Realtors, approximately $74 million of active land listings is adversely impacted by the well moratorium.

Rep. Bill Hinkle said he called the meeting because it is important for Central Washington legislators to be involved in creating a solution on behalf of their constituents. Citizens who have been directly affected by the overzealous actions of the Department of Ecology have contacted the legislators in recent weeks.

The two recurring themes throughout the meeting were the non-scientific and unnecessary rulemaking approach taken by DOE and its devastating impact on much-needed jobs throughout Kittitas County. With nearly 600 real estate listings immediately impacted by the water moratorium, local realtors said that the local economic impact would increase dramatically if a solution isn’t found quickly.

“This issue isn’t simply another anti-development decision being made by the Department of Ecology. Nor is this a battle between an agency and a county,” said Hinkle, R-Cle Elum. “This issue is about an agency stripping away the dreams of hardworking citizens. Yesterday we heard from people who have saved for years to build their dream home, and now are being told their dreams are on hold or may never be realized because of this moratorium.”

Other state legislators in attendance included  Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake; Rep. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake; Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches; Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima; Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger; and Rep. David Taylor, R- Moxee.

“With this ban, the governor’s Ecology Department is effectively bankrupting our building industry, devastating small businesses, issuing pink slips to workers, and restricting the property rights of families who hope to live in upper Kittitas County,” Holmquist said. “So much for the invisible hand of government; families in Kittitas County are seeing its consequences first hand.”

“It’s sad that so many jobs hinge on a decision made by an unelected agency,” Johnson said.  “My concern is for engineers, real estate agents, craftsmen, surveyors, and many others who make their living building and selling homes and property. I’m also concerned about the potential affect this could have on agriculture and our farmers in the Yakima Valley.”

“The agency is overreaching with this moratorium,” Chandler said. “It has the responsibility and resources to address an impairment of senior water rights. Ecology should work with the county to solve concerns that can be clearly identified.”

“I’m not satisfied that Ecology has done due diligence to prove the need for this moratorium, or that it has a plan to fully mitigate the enormous impacts on our local economy and the people the ban directly affects,” Warnick said.

“Ecology’s actions remind us that the government’s decisions directly impact citizens, as we heard from many families and employers who were concerned about their futures,” Ross said. “This moratorium does not solve anything, but it does hurt the local economy and scare more employers and residents from the area. I hope the county and the agency will be able to go back to the table and work out a better solution.”

Legislators ended the meeting with a promise to continue working with local officials to find both short-term and long-term solutions. All are committed to maintaining local control of land use and water permitting issues and ensuring state agencies don’t over-step their rulemaking authority.

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