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Mediation efforts over District 19 lawsuit falter

Commissioners for King County Water District 19 voted last week to suspend negotiations with developer Dan McClary after a day of mediation resulted in little progress, board chair Frank Jackson said Friday.

Jackson said the district would still consider a settlement before it heads to court over a lawsuit McClary filed against the district last year. A trial date has been set for November. But an attempt at mediation with retired King County Superior Court judge Terrence Lukens did not result in enough progress to make the effort worthwhile, he said.

“I’m disappointed,” he added. “I had hoped that mediation would be more productive.”

But Aaron Laing, McClary’s lawyer, criticized the district commissioners for their decision, saying it will be far costlier to head to trial. The ratepayers, he said, will ultimately bear a portion of those costs.

“The costs of proceeding to litigation will be probably 100 times greater to the district,” he said.

“It was my impression and professional opinion that we were very close to a resolution, and we were shocked to learn … that the district decided it would prefer to go to litigation rather than resolve this matter through mediation,” he added.

Jackson disagreed that the commissioners’ approach was not in the best interest of the ratepayers.

“We’re trying to responsibly manage the water district for the long term,” Jackson said. “Our water resource is very limited, and we have policies in place that we’re adhering to.”

McClary, owner of Vashon Village, sued the water district after it refused to grant him what’s called a certificate of water availability, which is needed for him to pursue his plan to build a 24-room motel at the site. McClary, who developed Vashon Meadows, a small housing development just south of Vashon town, purchased Vashon Village about three years ago.

McClary currently has eight shares for the eight buildings that comprise Vashon Village, located across the street from Ober Park. Two years ago, the Federal Way developer asked the district to put those eight buildings — all of which use little water — onto one water share, freeing up seven water shares for the inn he wants to build.

The three commissioners refused, saying the district’s policy is to provide one share per building; the amount of water used per building, they added, doesn’t play into water share decisions.

Neither Jackson nor Laing could comment on the nature of the mediation or what issues continue to separate the two sides. Laing said there was another half-day of attempted mediation in June with a different mediator.

District 19, the largest water purveyor on the Island, put a moratorium on new water shares about a decade ago. According to commissioners, the water district, with three wells and access to surface water from two streams, currently doesn’t have enough water to meet peak, summertime demand, as required by state law.

About 100 people are currently on the district’s waiting list, seeking around 300 new shares. The district is attempting to provide some of those shares by adopting conservation measures and buying unused shares from people who no longer want them, Jackson said.

McClary, however, contends that the commissioners could develop more wells and are using the district’s water shortage to advance what he has called a “no-growth” agenda.

Laing, McClary’s lawyer, also questioned the district’s decision to use two lawyers in their defense against McClary’s suit. One of them, Blair Burroughs, is covered by the district’s insurance policy; but the other, Loren Dunn, with Riddell Williams, a law firm in Seattle, is not, he noted.

“The ratepayers are covering those costs,” Laing said.

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