La Center residents may have missed out on lower sewer rates after a plan to extend service to the proposed Cowlitz Indian Tribe casino was nixed earlier this year.
“The tribe could be an industrial customer if the county wasn’t suing the city,” La Center Public Works Director Jeffrey Sarvis said.
He’s referring to a Growth Management Hearings Board decision and subsequent court ruling that says La Center can’t offer its sewer service to customers outside its urban growth boundary.
That’s in accordance with the county’s planning policy — which Sarvis said isn’t being enforced everywhere.
Ridgefield, he pointed out, provided sewer service to the Tri-Mountain Golf Course, which isn’t inside the city’s growth boundary. Ridgefield officials say the course is now handled by the Clark Regional Wastewater District.
Cowlitz Tribe submits plan for handling wastewater from planned casino
Still, Sarvis said, “the county’s not applying their policy equally.”
Clark County and three other parties brought the city before the growth management board last year to get La Center in compliance.
The city tried to recraft its policies to keep sewer services out of rural areas but allow them on federal trust lands — such as the Cowlitz land west of Interstate 5 — but the growth board shot that down as well.
Having a large customer such as the tribe would help subsidize costs borne by La Center ratepayers. City officials speculated rates could have remained steady or even dropped if the tribe had joined the city’s sewer system.
“We have the capacity to serve industrial lands, and, of course, there’s a benefit to the customers,” but the city’s hands are tied, Sarvis said.
That means sewer rates will continue to rise. But the failed deal is not the reason rates are rising in the first place.
The La Center City Council two years ago approved a plan that would see rates rise $5 every year through 2018.
That action came about after the 2006 acquisition of the wastewater treatment plant, debt associated with it and a later expansion.
The plant was upgraded in 2009 at a cost of $9 million to serve a growing community for the next 20 years.
That was before any deal with the Cowlitz — the expanded capacity was meant for anticipated growth. The hopes are that industrial customers along the I-5 corridor would eventually contract with the plant, city officials said.
Sarvis said the tribe wants to get on with planning and building its long-delayed casino, so any attempt to change rules or appeal these decisions likely would not satisfy any Cowlitz timeline. He said the city is just going to change its policy to match the county’s Growth Management Act.