Even though a controversial expansion of the urban growth boundary has been put on hold because of legal challenges, the Spokane County Commission on Tuesday voted to move ahead with preliminary planning for a sewer system in the north Mead area.
The commissioners accepted a recommendation to negotiate a contract with HDR Inc. to undertake preliminary planning.
The sewers would serve an area proposed for greater urban growth along the U.S. Highway 2 corridor in the vicinity of Mount Spokane Park Drive.
County Commissioner Todd Mielke said that houses and businesses built in the area over the years are served by septic tanks that will eventually fail and have to be replaced.
“It’s not about if it is going to happen, it’s when,” Mielke said on Tuesday.
Subdivisions in the area were built prior to the county’s adoption of stricter growth management boundaries in 2001.
Commissioners voted in July 2013 to expand the urban designation to the north Mead area, but the expansion is under challenge.
A coalition of local advocacy and neighborhood groups and several individuals have the expansion on appeal. They were joined by the state commerce and transportation departments under direction from Gov. Jay Inslee.
The state’s Growth Management Hearings Board sent the plan back to the commissioners because their previous deliberations lacked adequate public testimony.
Commissioners are not giving up. They have scheduled a public workshop for 3 p.m. today in the commissioner’s assembly room in the Public Works Building to review how urban expansion meets goals of the growth management law. The commissioners are poised to reapprove last year’s action to expand the urban growth area by about 3,600 acres. Appeals are likely to continue.
The north Mead area is 1,570 acres and includes a high school, middle school and two grade schools. It currently has a population of about 4,000 with capacity for an additional 800 residents, according to the commissioners’ findings.
Mielke said that phosphorus coming from the septic tanks in the area is creating an environmental risk. The effluent can migrate through soils and get into Peone Creek and the Little Spokane River and eventually the Spokane River, which is the subject of an expensive cleanup under the federal Clean Water Act, he said.
The county has to show progress in removing phosphorus from the Spokane River basin, he said.
The urban growth expansion sought by the commissioners is part of a 20-year update of the original county growth management plan. It includes an update in population projections.
In May 2013, the county commissioners met with a state commerce official in closed executive session to talk about potential challenges of urban expansion.
The neighborhood coalition that is fighting the expansion filed a lawsuit in Spokane County Superior Court challenging the meeting as a violation of the open meetings law.
The county commissioners voted Tuesday to accept a settlement of that suit in which the county reiterates state law on lawful use of executive sessions. The settlement reimburses the coalition $6,400 for its attorney fees while the county admits no wrongdoing.