The Weed City Council approved the municipal water part of an agreement with Roseburg but not the stormwater part of the agreement. After the council's April 14 meeting, Roseburg representative Ellen Porter wondered "if approving half the agreement leaves any agreement.”
The Weed City Council voted 4-1 Thursday night to approve the revised municipal water agreement with Roseburg for a 10 to 15 year lease.
The council voted 3-2 against a stormwater agreement with Roseburg which had recently been separated out from the water agreement.
After the meeting, Roseburg Director of Environmental Affairs Ellen Porter said, “We're kind of perplexed and not sure what’s going on because it’s all part of the same agreement.” She said she believed the agreements were “agendized wrong” and was “not sure if approving half the agreement leaves any agreement.”
According to Roseburg the terms set out in the Memorandum of Agreement that was approved by the Weed City Council Feb. 24 were binding and the terms cannot be separated out.
Asked after the meeting about that, Weed Mayor Ken Palfini said, “I think Roseburg should accept that they got the water agreement and deal with the drainage in some other way.”
Palfini and councilors Stacey Green and Bob Hall voted against the stormwater agreement, while councilors Chuck Sutton and Kim Greene voted for it.
Hall was the only no vote on the water agreement.
Before voting on those agreements, the council voted 3-2 in favor of applying for CEQA exemptions that their water attorney, Bart Flaherty, said the projects qualify for under the law. Sutton, Stacey Green and Kim Greene voted yes; Hall and Palfini were opposed.
Approximately 50 people attended the meeting, which included presentations from city administrator Ron Stock, city water attorney Bart Flaherty, and Ellen Porter.
After the presentations, questions from the council were answered, then members of the public were given time to speak.
Public speakers were opposed to the water agreement in one way or another. Objections included cost, drought concerns, firefighting capabilities, environmental and CEQA requirements, pollutants and effluents, water quality, and ownership of the water rights.
Many people discussed water as a commodity versus having it as part of the Public Trust. They favored the latter.
City staff began the presentations and reported that Roseburg had agreed to change the last version of the water agreement to allow the City to defer its first year’s payment and pay the first half in December of this year instead of at the beginning of the lease period on July 1. The next payment will be due six months later with the payment for the following year due a month later.
This concession from Roseburg was in response to the Council’s request for one year, or at least six months, water supply for no cost because a representative of Roseburg said at a city council meeting that this had been offered.
The different sides disagree about what happened and whether there was an offer or not.
City administrator Stock said the postponed payment will give the City the time it needs to obtain the funds and allow the city to provide the community with a reliable water supply.
“This is the third public hearing where we are taking public comment,” Stock said. “Citizens would like a reliable, high quality water source that we own and we agree with them. People criticize the documents but I don’t believe their criticism is founded. The agreement provides water with certainty.”
After explaining the deferred payment plan to the council, water attorney Flaherty said, “I can’t stress enough that this is a back stop agreement and gives us time to do our due diligence and determine the best options for you.”
Mayor Ken Palfini said, “I’m disappointed that the six months promise was not a promise.”
Flaherty explained that the projects qualify for CEQA exemptions. The City has retained Diaz & Associates for the environmental analysis and determined that there is a categorical exemption for the water and a statutory exemption for the stormwater.
Flaherty said Bray & Associates are being retained for the logistics of the stormwater agreement. He said, “It is now time to determine the best alternative, then when the decision is made, that’s the time to do CEQA.”
Under the water agreement, if Roseburg wants to dispose of industrial effluent into the sewage system, which they do not currently do, then Roseburg will have to approach the city with details of what the effluents will contain, explained Flaherty.
The City will then determine if it is capable of handling the effluent and what will be required by law.
Roseburg must pay for all upgrades and costs, including CEQA requirements such as an EIR, that the City may need by law, according to the agreement.
City councilor Bob Hall said he had “asked for language that made sure we weren’t giving up any future rights. If you have enough money you can make anything go. Beneficial use should be a priority for the community. Domestic, municipal, industrial,” as he counted out one, two and three on his hand.
“We have in front of us the fourth legal opinion that says that we are not giving up any water rights with this agreement,” said councilor Chuck Sutton. “Nobody has still come forward with a document that says we have any rights to that water. I don’t see why we keep rehashing this stuff.”
Hall said, “Under section 4.0.1 of the water agreement, within six months we must present Roseburg with a plan and begin implementation within two years. If we don’t have an alternative, Roseburg has no legal obligation to provide water. Theoretically then, should Roseburg choose, they could threaten to end the agreement.”
Flaherty confirmed this was the case, but said the city should be able to meet the requirement deadlines.
Roseburg presented a history of the ownership of the water rights and its justification of the costs of the water lease, which starts at $97,500 per year.
“I would like to stress we always have been partners and want to assure the citizens of Weed they will have access to reliable drinking water,” said Porter.
“We are not taking water away to give it to Crystal Geyser,” Porter stated. “In reality the water rights are already owned by a private entity. What the other folks are actually requesting is the socialization of private property.”
She was referring to Crystal Geyser Roxane, which bottles water in Weed that it gets from the Beaughan Springs in a confidential agreement with Roseburg, according to Porter.
“Water is a commodity that has a value, as with any business we must cover our costs. The amount we are charging is far below market value.”
Palfini questioned what costs they incur, and Porter responded that Roseburg has costs for infrastructure, metering, and other costs. “Roseburg is in the business of making money,” she said.
Palfini questioned Roseburg about how much of the 1.5 cfs of water that is alloted to the City by the agreement goes back to Roseburg for their cogeneration plant. Porter could not say but said that “if there is a problem we can certainly change that.”
She said, “If 1.5cfs proves to be not enough, then Roseburg will seek alternatives for the cogeneration plant.”
Palfini later said he believes Roseburg agreed not to use the city’s water for the cogeneration plant.
Councilor Stacey Green spoke after public comment and asked the question:
“How can we be charged for water, for whatever reason?” He said he thinks it’s possible that previous city leaders never questioned the ownership rights and that he hadn’t expected this from Roseburg. “We need to work on the heart piece. It’s too much. Mr. Ford would not have wanted this to happen,” referring to the previous owner of the lumber mill.
“What happens if we don't sign? We could be charged more,” said councilor Kim Greene, “like $300,000 a year.”
She said, “We have 10 weeks to solve a problem that’s been going on for 50 years. I don’t think they are bullying us. Do I like it? No. We’ve had it way too good for far too long and 10 dollars a month is not too much to pay for the quality of water we have."
Sutton agreed with her.
“Eminent domain takes time and money. Not saying it’s not an option in the future, just not at this time," said Sutton. “I thought for many years Roseburg wouldn’t do this to us. I’m a man of faith and hope.”
Palfini said, “We don't have any documents at this time that specifically say we own the water. Something could lead us down that road. Most of what we are in the red for is legal fees.” He later said that legal fees have reached $25,000 per month. “We should spend money in pursuing eminent domain. The lease agreement is a stop-gap measure.”
Palfini said, “We don't have a choice. Did other councils have a choice... yes... did they do anything? No they did not... this council has done its best.”