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Corps pulls permit on Diking District 1 pump project

The Army Corps of Engineers has notified Diking District 1 that it will need a new permit for its controversial pump project at Useless Bay.

In a letter sent this week to diking district officials, the Seattle District of the Corps of Engineers said the permit was being revoked and diking officials would now need to apply for an after-the-fact permit.

In the Jan. 4 letter, the Corps of Engineers also said it wanted an operation plan for the new pump, as well as documentation that shows water levels and other information that is being used to regulate the pumps in the diking district’s Useless Bay pump station.

“We really want to see in writing how they manage and operate the pump,” said Vicky Didenhover of the Corps of Engineers.

“We just want to understand what circumstances the pump comes on under, so it’s not a nebulous, ‘Today, we walked down and turned on the pump,’” she said.

Diking District 1’s pump project has been the subject of continuous controversy since the $430,000 project was approved by diking officials, and officials turned to property owners in the district to pay for it. Some residents of the district, which spans 743 acres and includes the neighborhoods of Sunlight Beach, Olympic View and Sun Vista and Useless Bay Golf & Country Club, claim the pump is draining sensitive wetlands next to Useless Bay. They also say the assessments that will pay for the pump have not been fairly spread out among those who will benefit from the project, and the diking district is currently battling two lawsuits in Island County Superior Court over the project.

Corps of Engineers officials notified the diking district in December that the district’s Nationwide Permit 3 was being reviewed, and warned that the permit might be pulled.

Steve Arnold, chairman of the Diking District 1 board, stressed that the pump would not be shut off.

He also noted that Island County was responsible for getting the permit for the diking district, and handled the application process with the Corps of Engineers.

Arnold added that the Corps of Engineers has taken responsibility for the issuance of the wrong type of permit for the project.

“It’s really a paperwork clarification,” he said, noting that the dispute with some in the diking district over the pump project prompted the Corps review of the original permit.

“With all the controversy and stuff ... they went back, reviewed all the information, and they decided they made a mistake,” Arnold said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not able to keep the project in place. But they want an individual permit instead of a nationwide permit.”

A “Nationwide Permit 3,” or NWP3, is typically granted for work that is done to repair, rehabilitate or replace projects that have been previously approved.

Didenhover, of the Corps of Engineers, said when the Corps first looked at the NWP3 application, it was reviewed as a maintenance project.

The view of the project has since changed, she said.

“Increasing the pumping capacity is not maintenance work,” Didenhover said. “If we would have realized that up front, we would not have processed it as a Nationwide Permit.”

The diking district and Island County received its NWP3 verification in July 2007, and that permit covered the replacement of a 24-inch culvert with another culvert half its size, and the replacement of a 1,400 gallon-per-minute pump with a slightly larger one. It also allowed the installation of a 6,000 gallon-per-minute pump, as well as the construction of a new pump house at Deer Lagoon. The project is used to pump excess stormwater that could flood property in the district into Useless Bay.

Arnold said the diking district mailed a response to the Corps on Thursday, and included the information that was requested by the federal agency.

“It was basically the same operating plan that we’ve had in place that was designed by the engineer [on the project],” he said.

The project has been designed to keep water in Deer Lagoon at its historic levels, Arnold added.

Didenhover said the approval process for an after-the-fact “standard individual permit” will include a 30-day public comment period.

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