Weed approves water agreement on 3-2 vote

Sarabecca Barnett
The Weed City Council chambers were full and many citizens expressed their opinions during a special meeting last week to consider what to do about a soon-to-expire lease for the city's municipal water supply. The council approved a memorandum of agreement with Roseburg Forest Products to extend the lease, but also set the groundwork in case the agreement does not get finalized.

Weed City Councilors voted 3-2 during a special meeting last week to approve a Memorandum of Agreement proposed by Roseburg Forest Products to extend the lease for the city’s water supply.

The council continued consideration of a water supply emergency declaration until March 10 to allow time for the agreement to be signed by both parties.

If the agreement is not executed by then, the emergency declaration will be brought back for the March 10 council meeting.

A 50 year lease for the majority of Weed’s municipal water will end on June 29 and, after five years of negotiating, the council approved a preliminary agreement with Roseburg, although Mayor Ken Palfini and councilor Bob Hall opposed it.

The council directed staff to begin the process of obtaining state emergency water funding should those funds be needed.

The terms of the preliminary agreement will be incorporated into a “final water lease agreement and stormwater containment contract,” according to the MOA.

First announced on the Friday before, Wednesday’s special meeting was planned in order to discuss a declaration of emergency for the end of the 50 year water lease with Roseburg. On Sunday Roseburg proposed a new MOA and the city then added consideration of it on the agenda.

The proposed agreement spells out a ten year lease to begin on July 1, 2016, with a five year extension possible. The city will have to pay a starting rate of $97,500 for 1.5 cfs, which will increase 2% each year. The city has reported that current usage is 2 cfs.

The city will also be required to obtain a different water source and infrastructure by the end of the lease at its own cost. The agreement requires the city to work with Roseburg on these plans and to make its first presentation on its plans within 6 months of the final agreement.

The agreement deals with many legal issues between the two parties including easements, sewer service, municipal water, stormwater flows, and the city’s relinquishing of future rights to the waters of the Beaughan Spring. Various aspects of these services will also have financial costs for the city, according to the agreement.

Copies of the full text of the agreement are available from the City of Weed.

Council member Chuck Sutton, who voted with Stacey Green and Kim Greene to approve the agreement, stated that it was important to him that there citizens have time to give their input to council members before they sign the final contract.

It was a standing room only city council chambers with approximately 60 people in attendance for the special meeting announced just days beforehand. While many people wanted to speak, only a few spoke in favor of the agreement.

Finally able to discuss publicly the current details of five years of confidential negotiations over the water rights, city administrator Ron Stock said he supports the agreement and both sides have made compromises, which to him is the mark of a good agreement.

Cassandra Jackson, the environmental manager for Roseburg, spoke of her company’s “ongoing commitment” to the community saying that they are “not turning our backs on the community or the City of Weed.” She said there is no need for fear or anxiety and that Roseburg has offered a “representative of the city” a no fee six month extension of the lease.

Mayor Palfini, who is a member of the committee negotiating with Roseburg, said the city has never received an offer of a six month extension. The Mayor was not in favor of the agreement stating that “Roseburg comes to the table with their demands and that's pretty much it. I don't consider that a negotiating stance.

“As citizens of Weed we will all suffer the consequences.”

Jackson was the only representative from Roseburg present at the meeting and no one was available to sign the agreement, according to the Mayor.

The city has said that agreements have been made before and Roseburg has not signed them and instead come back with additional conditions.

Council member Bob Hall pointed out that the city will still have to drill wells and find other sources and infrastructure, as well as funding: “This is just pushing it down the road.”

Because Weed is a “severely disadvantaged community,” Stock said funding would be available to cover these costs.

Hall also published an editorial in the newspaper on the matter and was clear that he did not support the agreement. His position is that the water belongs to the city, as he explained.

Recently retired Fire Chief Darin Quigley spoke to the council during public comments and stated that “from a fire protection standpoint, it’s been a pleasure to have both” the current sources of water during his 26 years as chief and to have water pressure of “3000 gallons per minute of gravity fed water for the Boles Fire...it’s sad to see it go.”

Quigley said “it's time to get our own system, ten years from now, at least we will be controlling our water.”

Longtime resident James Gubetta said he was building a new home but if he had known about this “contract I would not have invested... I’ve been a timber advocate since I was 17 and this reminds me of the story in 1920 when there was a disagreement [with the mill] and they said: ‘All you Italians – we give you 50 cents for your house and you get out of town. Those are documented items and that's what this agreement is.”

Several citizens questioned Roseburg's ownership of the water saying that it was intended to belong to the people, including former mayor and member of the water committee Dave Pearce, who stated:

“What I'm concerned on, we've had the water for over a hundred years. It went from Abner Weed to Long Bell to International and then all of a sudden Roseburg comes steps in and says we don't own anything. I've got documentation from 1932 where it states that the town of Weed has the water for domestic municipal purposes use. Now all of a sudden they are saying we don't have anything. To me I think we need to stick to our guns and work on it and get things back to the way it normally was.”

Vicki Gold of Water Flows Free spoke to the council about the possible legal ramifications of the Obama supported Trans Pacific Partnership. Gold said that because Roseburg and Crystal Geyser Roxane are held by majority foreign ownership, that they would be able to bypass local and state laws if the TPP passes and the city would be under jurisdiction of a foreign court for any legal conflicts.

She also asserted that information is lacking on current drought conditions (an issue brought up by several people), including groundwater depletion, and on how much water is being used by Crystal Geyser.

The terms of Crystal Geyser’s contract with Roseburg are unknown to the public, according to Palfini.

Gold recommended that the council reject the offer from Roseburg and hire a hydrogeologist to study the current water sources.

Hall argued that the water rights were given to the city in 1982 and then taken away in 1996. Discussion of the history and existence of a verbal agreement that the water belonged to the city and a lack of written proof of this agreement occurred between citizens and the council. The city has never pursued litigation to prove the existence of an oral agreement, according to the city's water attorney Bart Flaherty.

Angelina Cook of the Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center thanked the city and Roseburg for making the proposed agreement public and told the council that the “gravity fed pristine spring waters is what sets our communities apart from the rest of the communities in California and we should do everything in our power to retain rights to Beaughan Spring... don't rush into signing any contract...and engage the citizens in how to make sure that the public interest prevails over the profit motive in this case.”