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Welcome to AWC’s online library of Legislative Bulletin and CityVoice news articles and other updates.

Published on Friday, July 31, 2015

Extended sessions bring to close several long-standing fights

In the environment and land use arena, this session brought several long-standing fights to conclusion. Deferral of impact fees, water-sewer district assumptions, and septic-to-sewer conversions were all long-standing issues that were finally brought to a close. While we didn’t get everything we wanted, the final compromises on each issue were responsive to the needs of cities. Hopefully with these long-simmering issues resolved for now, we can shift our efforts to other important and emerging issues.

Mandatory deferral of impact fees

AWC has long opposed a mandate for local governments to defer collecting impact fees, holding the bills off for many years despite the fact that the Legislature wanted to adopt this policy. The House and the Senate passed a bill with a strong majority in 2013 which AWC and others successfully convinced the Governor to veto. By 2015, it became clear that it was time to negotiate the best deal we could, as this bill was going to pass either way.

In the end, the worst impacts were mitigated and the bill, ESB 5923, passed as follows:

  • Developers are required to file a lien to access the deferral;
  • Cities are authorized to choose whether to defer until certificate of occupancy, final inspection, or closing;
  • Cities are authorized to withhold certificate of occupancy or final inspection until payment;
  • Provides for limited grandfathering if local systems don’t fully match the state mandate, so long as all impact fees are deferred;
  • Limits deferrals to single family homes and duplexes/triplexes;
  • Limits deferrals to 20 per builder per jurisdiction.

For more information of local implementation of this bill see this article from MRSC.

Water-sewer district assumptions

Another issue that found AWC on different sides from some of our strongest supporters in the Legislature dealt with the existing authority for cities to assume control of water-sewer districts within city boundaries. For years the districts have sought to limit this city authority, and to require a public vote if a city attempts to assume these districts. Year after year, cities have defeated these proposals, but just barely.

This session, rather than relive those fights, the water-sewer districts brought forth a different proposal that most cities were willing to accept as a compromise. Rather than requiring a public vote, they asked for the right to put a referendum on the ballot, like many other municipal decisions of significance. We successfully secured details that ensured a fair process, such as the requirement that only those voters residing in the portion of the district subject to the assumption are eligible to vote on the matter, and clarifying that assumptions agreed to by the water-sewer district commissioners were not subject to referendum.

While we still have cities that are not satisfied with these changes and feel that they were unnecessary, we are pleased that this was resolved in a mostly fair way and that this issue will hopefully not continue to be a perennial legislative issue.

Septic-to-sewer conversions

Over the last several years the septic installers association has run bills that limit the authority of cities to require constituents with failing septic systems to hook onto municipal sewer. They justify their requests with troubling, but isolated, examples of homeowners facing extraordinary bills to hook onto sewer when re-installation of septic systems would have been much cheaper. Previous proposals included language that would eliminate city authority to require mandatory sewer hookup altogether, or charged local governments with the cost of connection and infrastructure. We opposed those strenuously. However, we recognized the value in making sure that cities had the tools to consider extraordinary and individual circumstances.

This year, we successfully worked with the proponents of these bills to find a middle ground. The new law requires cities to offer an administrative appeal when septic repair or replacement of existing single family systems are denied and sewer hookup is required. Cities will be able to use an existing appeal mechanism and may still choose to require hookup. There are also a series of considerations that the appeal must consider, including cost to the homeowner, system and financing issues, and environmental issues.

We’re hopeful that this tool will prove successful at eliminating these isolated incidences and this issue can be put to rest for now.

The start of something big on locally owned fish passage barriers

One of the under-the-radar successes that AWC fought for this year was tucked away at the end of one of the transportation reform bills that passed as part of the transportation package. 2ESSB 5996, section 10 contains a significant opportunity for cities to make progress on a looming problem.

Washington is facing a major obligation to fix nearly a thousand culverts and other man-made barriers that are blocking endangered salmon from moving up and down stream. The state is under a deadline to complete $4 billion worth of culvert repairs by 2028. Local governments own even more barriers and want to be part of the solution to restore healthy salmon runs around the state. Finding sufficient resources to systematically address this issue is a big challenge.

Recognizing this, we worked with transportation leaders and other stakeholders identify mitigation measures associated with state transportation projects. 2ESSB 5996 directs state agencies to prioritize fixing local government-owned fish barriers as mitigation for state transportation projects when that would provide a greater environmental benefit than traditional mitigation. This will supplement our work with partners to create a strategic plan that addresses local fish barriers. We continue to advocate for a systematic approach because clearing one WSDOT barrier when a city might own one downstream, while a county owns one upstream, doesn’t accomplish what the fish really need.

There will be a lot of locally-based conversations to determine how to implement this new approach and to invest in the right projects. But this may prove to be a great opportunity to start chipping away at the problem. If you missed it the first time, here is a video AWC produced with our partners in the forestry industry explaining our thinking on how to move forward.

Toxics reduction bill fails at the very end, water quality rule unresolved

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the session in the environmental arena was the last minute failure of Governor Inslee’s toxics reduction proposal, E2SHB 1472. When the Governor announced his moderate approach on water quality standard, frequently referred to as the “fish consumption rule”, he explained that he would accept slightly less stringent standards affecting direct dischargers like city wastewater plants if they were accompanied by a process to reduce the amount of toxic pollutants entering the waste stream.

The Governor ultimately introduced a plan that contained authority for the Department of Ecology to require manufacturers to assess their use of certain toxic chemicals in their products and then gave authority for Ecology, after a thorough assessment process, to ban the use of certain chemicals if safer alternatives existed. AWC was among a very small group of strong supporters for this approach because we supported the water quality rule that the Governor linked to the bill, and we supported efforts that might ultimately get hard-to-deal-with chemicals out of our waste streams.

Through intensive negotiation we got the bill to a point where it was acceptable to most impacted parties, but because of a series of events it did not pass.

This failure leaves the outcome of the water quality rule up in the air. While the state pursued this path, the Environmental Protection Agency began their own rulemaking, threatening to interject their own rule if Washington did not act swiftly. The Governor has to decide what to do by August 6, and he has three options: submitting his original rule, pulling it back and making some changes, or allowing the federal government to take back the authority to promulgate this water quality rule. We have communicated our preferences and anxiously await the outcome.

BillTracker Bill # Descriptive title Final status
  ESSB 5048 Subjecting water/sewer district assumptions to a referendum Law; Effective 7/24/2015
  SB 5314 Expanding the use of local storm water charges paid by the Department of Transportation. Law; Effective 6/30/2015
  SSB 5795 Authorizing cities to create assessment reimbursement areas for the construction or improvement of water or sewer facilities. Law; Effective 7/24/2015
  ESB 5871 Creating appeal procedures for single-family homeowners with failing septic systems required to connect to public sewer systems Law; Effective 7/24/2015
Yes ESB 5923 Requiring cities that collect impact fees to allow for deferred payment of impact fees for residential development Law; Effective 9/1/2016
  HB 1102/SB 5055 Requiring cities to extend sewer facilities when residents with failing septic systems are required to connect to sewer Failed; See ESB 5871
  EHB 1123 Prohibiting the regulation of minimum gross floor area for single-family detached dwellings Failed
  HB 1158 Granting local governments authority to make challenges related to growth management planning subject to direct review in superior court Failed
  HB 1250/SSB 5138 Revised notice and review provisions for annexations Failed
  HB 1394/ESB 5921 Reinstating common law interpretation and application of vested rights doctrine Failed
  E2SHB 1472/SB 5406 Use of chemical action plans to require safer chemicals in Washington Failed
  EHB 2086/SB 5900 Restricting local government ability to limit religious organization’s ability to host homeless encampments Failed
  SB 5188 Limiting the use of eminent domain Failed
  SB 5363 Limiting the use of eminent domain Failed
  SB 5604 Expanding buildable lands reporting requirements under the Growth Management Act Failed
  SB 5628 New stormwater, flood control and water supply infrastructure funding program Failed
  SB 5869 Restricting local government ability to regulate location of manufactured/mobile homes Failed