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Spokane water denied to Five Mile Prairie land owner who sold land for pump station

UPDATED: Fri., July 13, 2018, 10:21 a.m.

Ginny Beadle says the city unfairly cut off her access to city water, despite her family setting aside land to build this pumping station on the bustling fringes of the Five Mile neighborhood. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Ginny Beadle says the city unfairly cut off her access to city water, despite her family setting aside land to build this pumping station on the bustling fringes of the Five Mile neighborhood. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

The plaque installed on the front door of a pumping station on Five Mile Road bears the name of Ginny Beadle’s grandparents, Otto and Louise Kempe, above a Bible verse that was key to their family.

“Well done, good and faithful servants,” the message reads, from the book of Matthew.

Beadle sold the land to the city in 2005 to help bring water to the developing area where homesteaders, among them Beadle’s ancestors, settled in the late 19th century on land pioneer John F. Strong called, “Glorious in prospect!” An area of water service surrounding the station, called a “pressure zone,” bears the Kempe name.

But Beadle can’t have the water pumping through that station or flowing through the pipe beneath her feet.

“This is the part that’s so crazy to me,” she said Tuesday morning on her land, walking north to get a better view of a subdivision with dozens of new homes within eyesight of the plaque and pumping station. “It just makes me nuts.”

The Spokane City Council shot down her request for city water in the face of threatened legal action by groups concerned about urban sprawl, part of a slate of decisions that also denied service to areas surrounding a planned housing development in northeast Spokane. Lawmakers say their hands are tied by state and city laws that rigidly draw lines for where water may and may not go.

“When we start making exceptions, where do we stop?” asked City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, who was one of five votes against Beadle’s request to hook up to city lines. “I don’t know where the line would be.”

But to Beadle, that argument makes little sense. She’d like to build a home for her and her adult daughter on a tucked-away corner of the 5 acres her family has owned for decades. The pair has already picked out a floor plan from a designer in Texas.

When they sold the land to the city, however, they didn’t include a requirement in the sale that they be hooked up to city water, relying on verbal assurances that would happen in the future. Beadle says now that was likely a mistake.

“The main goes right past here, right past my property,” Beadle said, referring to a water line that was built beneath the road in 2000. “I can’t connect in with them, and the state won’t let me drill a well.”

Brook Beeler, a spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Ecology, said Friday after looking into Beadle’s case that a recent revision to state law could allow Beadle to dig a well on her property. The law was passed earlier this year in response to a Washington state Supreme Court decision restricting the digging of future wells.

Still, Beadle believes the city council had the option to extend service to her property.

“It isn’t against the law. There’s an exception in there that allows them to do it,” Beadle said. “They’re just choosing not to do it.”

Beadle is referring to an exception in the city’s comprehensive plan that allows the city to approve extension of water services outside of boundaries approved for urban growth if the main that serves the property was built prior to May 2001. That’s when the city adopted its first comprehensive plan for future growth, which also allows areas that had prior commitments for water to receive that service. That’s how subdivisions surrounding Beadle’s property have received hookups, while she has not.

City Councilwoman Candace Mumm, who represents the Five Mile area, pointed out before voting against Beadle’s request that the plan gives lawmakers the option of extending service. It doesn’t require the city to do so.

“While I can certainly see the argument that the main is close by, mains are close by all throughout the city,” Mumm, who has been a consistent ‘no’ vote on any extension of city water outside urban areas, said. “These go right up to the city limits all over the place.”

Mumm blames bad planning in Spokane County for the spread of water around Beadle’s property. She’s not thinking about the one house Beadle wants to build on the land. She’s thinking about continued growth in the area shepherded in by city water, a concern that stretches back at least to the 1970s on the fertile fields north of town.

“If water is brought into the area by either the city or the Whitworth Water District, the result will be massive commercial and residential development on the prairie,” said Robert R. Wilkes, then-chairman of the North Spokane Environmental Committee, at a community meeting proposing water extensions on the prairie in February 1971. “This would destroy the natural beauty of the area.”

Echoes of that argument continue today.

“We have very high-grade soil here on Five Mile,” Mumm said. “We have a long farming history. It is in the county, and it is zoned rural and agriculture, so that is how it’s being used right now.”

Lack of water means Beadle will continue paying taxes on land she says she can’t use. A local farmer rents out the space for alfalfa planting, activity that was disturbed when the city tore up the road in 2000 to install the water main.

The lone vote for Beadle’s application came from City Councilwoman Karen Stratton, who said the law shouldn’t get in the way of what she called “an easy fix.”

“I don’t understand why we make it so complicated,” Stratton said. “To me, if I look at those, and if there’s a way to say you’re close, there’s a hookup, why are we doing this?”

That’s the argument Pete Rayner tried to make to the council Monday night, arguing that his two applications for extension of city water bordered plots already served by water. The council also voted down those requests, though the promise of what many lawmakers said was a much-needed housing project in northeast Spokane led to a narrow 4-3 decision against water for land nearby.

“I walked out of there, feeling like with this council, there’s never going to be a reason why we should do this,” Rayner said Tuesday, after the votes against his proposals.

Residents of the Indian Trail neighborhood say a request to extend service north of their homes would put additional load on an already stressed water system. Rayner’s Beacon Hill development will go forward without the water service extension but would have enabled a land swap that could have ended with a school being built to serve the homes.

City Councilman Breean Beggs said he acknowledged the frustration, and believed the system could be improved to give applicants a better idea up front what the council is looking for to extend service. For Beggs, land owners must prove there’s a health and safety concern that would require city water, such as the existence of tainted wells.

“There are two different parts of the city code, and one says you have to have that public health and safety crisis. The other one doesn’t mention it,” Beggs said. “People are making applications, and you think you have a good shot at it, but you just get shut down at the end.”

Mumm said that land owners come to the council, like Rayner and Beadle, thinking they’re arguing for just one house, or a pair of houses, when extending water service means hookups to an entire parcel that could one day become even denser development.

“Our commitment is not to one house, we make it to 5 acres, 80 acres,” Mumm said. “We have no control over necessarily what’s going to happen to that quantity of land.”

The refusal leaves a handful of land owners each year, like Beadle, with property they feel they can’t use. Beadle said she has considered legal action against the city for denying her service, but doesn’t want a protracted fight with the city. It also wouldn’t be in the spirit of her family, embodied in that biblical quote from Matthew.

“It was kind of instilled in us to be good community workers, work hard every day, to help your neighbors,” Beadle said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Friday, July 13, 2018, to indicate that revisions to Washington state law might allow Beadle to dig a well on her property.


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