On Aug. 1, community ownership of the Burton Water Company (BWC) came one step closer, as the results of a straw poll sent to all of the district’s 364 individual users were announced, showing overwhelming support for the idea of cooperative purchase of the water company.
The poll was conducted by Burton Water Cooperative, a group formed by Burton residents seeking to purchase BWC from its longtime owners, islanders Jim Garrison and Evan Simmons, who have both announced their retirement.
The cooperative also seeks to retain the services of BWC’s current skilled operator, Nick Simmons.
According to Chuck Weinstock, vice-president of the feasibility board of the cooperative, the straw poll had a 72% response rate, with 96% of those responding saying yes to the idea of community purchase of BWC at the sellers’ asking price of $1.2 million.
The purchase would come at a cost to Burton water users — the cooperative will require a $1,000 to $5,000 investment of cash from every household in order to buy into the cooperative — though flexibility for those with documented financial hardships will be possible, said Weinstock.
And while the straw poll vote was a notable step forward toward community ownership of the water company, there is much more work to be done, said Weinstock and another board member, Lisa Fitzhugh, in a Zoom call with The Beachcomber on Monday.
Next steps in the process, Weinstock said, include finalizing a letter of intent with BWC’s owners and moving forward to obtain financing from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with a loan designed for community-controlled water organizations.
Fitzhugh said she is also eager to continue to gauge community support for the proposed purchase, as it comes closer to reality.
In the coming months, the cooperative will also be revising the cooperative’s bylaws, signing up members, electing an official board to replace its current interim board and drafting a final financial plan for the purchase.
An official vote by Burton residents on whether to purchase BWC will take place in the late fall, Weinstock said.
Editor’s note: For background on the article, visit vashonnaturecenter.org/who-will-own-your-water-burton-time-to-chime-in.