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Bainbridge joins coalition in opposition to state

Bainbridge Island has joined forces with a band of other cities in a brewing legal skirmish against new regulations from the state’s Department of Ecology.

The city council approved an interlocal agreement that would allow Bainbridge Island to spend up to $15,000 in legal fees to fight proposed standards that the state Department of Ecology is considering for stormwater programs.

“It’s important to be involved with this so you have a chair at the table when appealing this with Ecology,” City Attorney Will Patton told the city council at its Wednesday meeting.

Councilwoman Anne Blair noted that it is an expensive place to be, but she was willing for the city to take its place as the coalition negotiates with the state.

The coalition is with Cowlitz County and 12 other cities; Auburn, Bellevue, Burlington, Des Moines, Everett, Issaquah, Kent, Mount Vernon, Renton, SeaTac, Snoqualmie and Sumner.

Officials claim the new standards under consideration by Ecology could result in costly burdens on landowners and lawsuits against cities that adopt the new standards.

The legal fight may include an appeal to the Pollution Control Hearings Board.

Bainbridge Island officials have previously raised alarm at the proposed changes to the state’s stormwater management manual and proposed permit changes for municipalities.

“The city’s concerns regarding the cost of complying with this permit, and its unfunded mandates, are shared by most municipalities. Bainbridge Island is currently undergoing substantial financial stress and adequate review time has not been provided for staff or our elected officials to educate the community about the far reach of many of the proposed changes or assess the financial impacts,” Bainbridge Public Works Director Lance Newkirk told Ecology in a Feb. 3 letter.

Newkirk said the public policy implications of the revisions had not yet been vetted, and the city asked the state to extend the review period “to allow additional community dialogue” on the draft manual and permit.

The city also said the new standards — which would apply to all projects that start construction after Jan. 1, 2021 — would cause problems with developers’ vesting rights.

“It will inevitably lead to complicated and expensive litigation,” Newkirk wrote.

Instead, Newkirk said new permit requirements should apply to permit applications that are not deemed complete by Dec. 31, 2015.

Bainbridge has also raised concern for a requirement that city roads be built with permeable pavement.

Newkirk said the requirement would mean added costs for cleanup and would make repair costs rise. The requirement should not be imposed until “permeable pavements have proven their durability and cost effectiveness,” he said.

The move to join the coalition was approved by a 5-2 vote.

Councilman Steve Bonkowski, who voted against joining, said that he was in favor of the coalition, but wanted to see more information about what issues the city faces — specifically he was interested in seeing the memo from Newkirk that covered the topic.

“I won’t support it now, but maybe next week after I can see what kind of issues Bainbridge Island will be dealing with,” Bonkowski said.

Reporter Richard D. Oxley contributed to this article.

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