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Group to sue state agency on water rule

Peninsula Daily News Sunday April 6, 2014

By Joe Smillie
     SEQUIM—The Olympic Resource Protection Council plans to sue the state over a rule that governs water in the Dungeness Valley.
     The group agreed Thursday night to pursue a lawsuit against the state Department of Ecology in hopes it will force the agency to review the Dungeness Water Rule.
     They have enlisted Seattle attorney, Sarah Mack, according to council President Greg McCarry.
     The cost of the case, likely to be filed in Thurston County Superior Court, is estimated to be $100,000 to $150,000, McCarry said. 
     The council has begun raising funds for the case through donations.
     McCarry expects to receive from outside the Nort Olympic Peninsula, saying many local governments and interest groups will pay close attention to this suit.
     “This is something that is probably going to be watched throughout the
state,” McCarry said. 
Petition rejected
     Mack worked with the council on assembling a petition asking Ecology to negotiate on changes to the rule earlier this year. 
     Ecology rejected the petition March 18.
     Water use in the basin was restricted  by the Dungeness Water Rule, a measure instituted January 2013 by Ecology with the aim of preserving water in the Dungeness River for both human use and aquatic species when the river’s flow dimishes in dry sumer months.
     Ecology officials declined to comment on the suit because it has yet to be filed, but agency spokesman Dan Partridge said the water rule is working. 
     “We feel it’s working toward what we were trying to accomplish in the basin,” Partridge said.  “And that is to protect the water supply for current and future users.”
     The rule requires water users to offset water they draw from the basin for new uses. 
     The rule covers the eastern half of Water Resource Inventory Area 18, from Bagley Creek to Sequim Bay.
Landowner Impacts
     Members of the council, formed last October, say the rule negatively impacts property values by uneccesarily limiting landowners’ water use.
     The council argued that Ecology misused a statutory jurisdiction known as, “over-riding consideration of public interest” when it set a minimum flow level for the Dungeness River. 
     In dismissing the petition, Ecology director, Maia Bellon said her agents could address many of the council’s concerns administratively.
     Several local agencies wrote letters to Ecology in support of the council’s request, including Clallam County commissioners, Clallam County Community Development Director, Sheila Roark Miller, Port of Port Angeles commissioners, the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Clallam County Economic Development Council, the Port Angeles, Business Association and the Sequim Association of Realtors.
     Although the council could have asked Gov. Jay Inslee’s office to reverse Ecology’s rejection of the petition, McCarry said they believed Inslee would reject their appeal. 
     Donations can be made through the group’s website, www.olympicresourcepc.org, or by phoning McCarry at 360-509-0633.

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