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  Bellingham Herald    April 4, 2009

Developers sue Bellingham seeking water for 141-home Governors Point project

By Jared Pabem

A new lawsuit claims the city of Bellingham must provide developers the water service they want for their proposed 141-home project on Governors Point, along Chuckanut Drive.

Governors Point Development Company filed the lawsuit in Whatcom County Superior Court this week, after city staff denied a request to buy water service in bulk for the project.

City staff said they have no obligation to provide water for the project and they legally can't.

The lawsuit claims that the denial of water has caused financial harm to the company, owned by the Sahlin family, and asks the court to force the city to give them money as compensation.

If they can't get water service, they must spend roughly $2 million to build a desalinization plant to pull water from the bay, and that's more expensive than buying city water. In all, damages are about $2.83 million, according to the lawsuit, filed by lawyers Bob Tull, Dannon Traxler and Elaine Spencer.

The lawsuit states that the city, after receiving a request to buy water, must conduct a study of the engineering feasibility and impacts to existing water customers. The decision must be based only on that, they argue.

The city has an implied contract to provide water, the laywers wrote. It's been serving a house on the point for half a century.

City officials say they're selling water to serve a single house on the peninsula, but that doesn't mean they are obliged to provide water for the proposed project. Bellingham has been saying it won't provide water to the project for the past 19 years, Bellingham Public Works Director Tom Rosenberg wrote to developers on March 6. City law prohibits extending water service outside the urban growth area, he wrote.

The company also has appealed to the City Council. While city officials don't believe the developers legally have a right to appeal to the council, the council will go ahead and consider the request to sell them water, assistant city attorney Alan Marriner said. Council members will make the final decision after holding a public hearing, he said. The hearing hasn't been scheduled yet.

"The City is unaware of any legal obligation to supply water to the proposed subdivision which is located five miles outside the City and its urban growth area and believes providing such water would violate local and state law," Marriner wrote in February.