Council approves water contract before deadline
By Meg Olson
In the nick of time, Blaine city council unanimously approved a new water supply contract with Birch Bay Water and Sewer District (BBWSD).
The city and the district have been renegotiating a long-term water contract since 1999, when the city rescinded the threat of terminating the district�s water supply. Earlier this month, the district issued a threat of its own � if a water agreement wasn�t reached by March 29, the district would look elsewhere for water and back out of a shared sewer system. �It makes little sense for the city and district to continue the pursuit of funding for the regional wastewater project within this year�s federal budget process unless we can agree on a water supply contract fairly soon,� Brown wrote. This district has maintained the position that wastewater and water planning needs to be consistent.
At the March 25 city council meeting city manager Gary Tomsic presented the final draft of the new contract, under which the city agrees to sell the district up to two million gallons of water per day for thirty years. The contract rates are based on a cost allocation model, rather than the flat rate of the previous contract. �It takes what assets we have and determines who pays for what,� Tomsic said.
The city and the district share reductions during short-term shortages but in a long-term shortage, a sustainable drop in water supply, Birch Bay would not need to drop below its allotted yearly amount until after 2013, when the current contract was due to expire. �It seems unfair that there�s a floor for Birch Bay but it�s in their existing contract, it�s not like we gave it to them,� Tomsic said.
Tomsic said the focus of the contract was building a partnership with the district to build a sustainable water supply for both communities. �If we bring Birch Bay on we�re going to have to find additional water in 30 years, so why do it?� he said, showing a chart in which the water needed would exceed the city�s water rights by 2030. �Birch Bay has grounds to say they have some right to the water they�ve been using for years. Rather than litigation the preferred way is to have them as partners. Either way Blaine is going to be looking for water,� he said.
David White, the only member of the public who spoke at the public hearing prior to the adoption of the contract, felt the district, which buys 52 percent of the city�s water production, should account for more than 25 percent of the city�s water utilities revenue. �It�s because they�re a wholesale customer,� Tomsic said. �They�re just paying for the water, not the other costs of running a water system. We don�t do billing for Birch Bay, fix their lines or build their tanks.�
White also took exception to the link between wastewater and water. �I don�t like the fact we�re being held hostage on this. We have the most liability,� he said. �They�re using the water contract as a bargaining chip for the regional sewer plant.�
Council members were united in their support for the contract. �We�ve been studying this for a long time,� John Liebert said. �In no way are we being held hostage. We haven�t even talked about the sewer plan with this but the whole scheme of regionalizing is something I favor.�
�If we did not sell water to Birch Bay we�d lose the economy of scale and cost to Blaine customers would go up significantly,� agreed Bruce Wolf.
BBWSD commissioners will vote on the contract at their next meeting on Thursday, March 28. ..