Diking district hires lawyer in pump-permit matter

FREELAND — Island County Diking District 1 commissioners agreed Friday to hire another lawyer.

This one will represent them in dealings with state and federal agencies in matters pertaining to the district's controversial new pump.

At a special meeting in Freeland, commissioners voted 2-1 to retain Brent Carson of the Seattle law firm GordonDerr to determine the district's next move in complying with new requirements regarding a permit for the pump project.

Carson, who specialize in dealing with the agencies, will be retained at $350 per hour to help the district deal with the Army Corps of Engineers, the state Department of Ecology and any other agency that becomes involved.

"They are asking for far-reaching and very expensive requirements," diking commission chairman Steve Arnold said of the agencies. "It will be less expensive to see what our options are."

Diking commissioner John Shepard, a persistent critic of the pump project, voted against hiring Carson.

"It would continue to drive costs up for residents of the district," Shepard said.

The Corps notified the district earlier this month that it was revoking the district's permit for the $430,000 pump project, the center of a lawsuit by a group of district residents concerned about inequitable assessments and ecological damage.

The pump was installed in December 2008.

The Corps said the district can continue to run the pump while officials pursue the correct permit. The Corps said it had issued the wrong permit based on the information provided.

But it also directed the district to provide an operation plan for the pump, along with documentation that shows water levels and other information being used to regulate pumping at the Useless Bay pump station.

The Department of Ecology also has asked the diking district for a thorough study of the wetlands, Arnold said.

He said the district has enough money to hire Carson, but not enough to comply with the new requirements from the agencies.

Diking commissioner Ray Gabelein said Island County should pay for any new costs regarding the pump permit, since the county handled the original permit process.

"Island County should live up to its responsibility," Gabelein said.

Seattle attorney Scott Ellerby will continue to represent the diking district in other matters, including the ongoing lawsuit against the district regarding the pump brought by Citizens in Support of Useless Bay Community.

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