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County and Cascade sign a Lake Tapps agreement

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By Dennis Box

The Courier-Herald

The preservation of Lake Tapps for recreation and eventual use as a drinking water source took another step forward Aug. 2.

The Pierce County Council conducted their meeting at the Tapps Island clubhouse and the last item on the agenda was the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the county and Cascade Water Alliance.

County Executive John Ladenburg and Cascade Board Chairman Grant Degginger signed the resolution, R2005-100s, which was sponsored by County Councilman Shawn Bunney.

The memorandum defines the roles the county and Cascade will play in the management of the lake.

Cascade is in the process of purchasing the lake, the White River divergence dam in Buckley, the flume and the White River hydroelectric plant from Puget Sound Energy.

The water provider will pay $10 million for the initial purchase and if the water rights are successfully issued and cleared, Cascade will pay an additional $27 million for a total of $37 million.

Mike Gagliardo, general manager for Cascade, said the final transfer details should be completed by the end of September, rather than August as was initially thought, with the final sale completed by the end of the year.

"Everyone is working as hard as they can," Gagliardo said. "There are no problems, it just takes a long time to do title searches and inspect the property."

Gagliardo said there are at least 129 separate parcels to inspect.

PSE completed the reservoir in 1911 and operated the hydroelectric plant for nearly 100 years.

The utility closed the plant because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license became too expensive to obtain because of Endangered Species Act issues.

Converting the lake to a drinking water reservoir was considered by PSE as the best avenue to save the lake.

Highlights of the memorandum state the county and Cascade will advocate for the drinking water rights to the lake, pursue state and federal funding sources for development and operation of the water supply project, coordinate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the replacement of the divergence dam and work together to maintain and monitor the lake's water quality.

The memorandum is not a binding legal agreement between the county and Cascade, but is another chap0ter in the story to save the lake.

"This means we have new ownership and we need to work collaboratively for a smooth transition," Bunney said. "It's been a long hard pull over the last six years."

Rep. Jan Shabro, R-Lake Tapps, who has fought to save the lake from the time it was first threatened, said it was wonderful news to know the lake will be saved.

"This is a national model," Shabro said. No other group around the nation has worked on a project like this."

The Department of Ecology granted the drinking water rights to PSE in June 2003. After an appeal by the Puyallup and Muckleshoot tribes and the cities of Auburn, Pacific, Algona and Buckley, along with private citizen, Robert Cook, the Pollution Control Hearings Board sent the decision back to Ecology to be reconsidered in light of the closing of the hydroelectric plant.

PSE and Cascade have been negotiating with the tribes and other appellants with the hope another appeal can be avoided if the water rights are granted again by Ecology.

Curt Hart, spokesman for Ecology, said the water rights decision has been delayed by another month.

"We're still working with Puget Sound Energy on modeling regarding the future operations and conditions," Hart said. "It looks more like another month. Probably we will have an announcement in early September."

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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