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Bellingham Herald   June 16, 2009

Bellingham council denies water for proposed 141-home project

By Jared Paben

Bellingham City Council members don't want the city to provide water to a proposed 141-home project on Governors Point, but a lawsuit is still seeking to force the city to do so.

The City Council voted 7-0 on Monday, June 15, to refuse to provide water to Governors Point Development Co., which says the city has an implied contract to serve the project. The property, a forested point along Chuckanut Drive, is owned by the Sahlin family.

Attorneys working for the Sahlins say the city has been serving a house on the point with water for half a century, so there's an implied contract to serve the project water. They were denied water by city staff, who said they can't legally extend the water there, and the appeal went to the council.

Project manager Wayne Schwandt said water lines are in the ground, and the project could be served with existing lines and a storage tank.

Elaine Spencer, an attorney working for developers, told the council the city has a duty to serve the project.

"Your discretion in this issue is actually quite narrow," she said. "It's narrow because it's governed by state law."

In March, the company filed a lawsuit in Whatcom County Superior Court seeking to force the city to provide water. The company also asked the court to award money for damages caused by the city's refusal to provide it. Without water, developers must look toward building an expensive desalinization plant to turn seawater into drinking water.

"If we have to go the desalinization route, Governors Point will look to the city to pay the difference in the court case we file," Spencer said.

On June 9, the court allowed Friends of Chuckanut to join the case against developers. The group fights to protect the natural resources and scenic beauty of the Chuckanut Drive area, group president Laure Leigh Brakke wrote to the court.

Dean Brett, attorney for Friends of Chuckanut, said the city has no obligation to provide water to the project, which is outside city limits and the unincorporated urban growth area, and he called the lawsuit "completely frivolous." His group will fight the project.

"We are going to fight this, as Churchill said, on the beaches and on the fields, through the city and the county and the courts to stop the development of this pristine place," he said.