Tri-City officials searching for new school sites suffered a setback in Olympia on Wednesday.
Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed a section of House Bill 1017 that would have allowed schools to connect to city water and sewer services if they built outside of a city’s urban growth area.
State law requires counties to set a zone, called an urban growth area, around a city to control its growth.
While schools can be built either inside or outside of the zones, many districts need to choose between building schools with septic systems and wells or finding land farther away from the neighborhoods they want to serve.
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The bill would have eased the restriction and allowed using city utilities if county officials agreed to it.
Inslee said he wanted more limitations on the size of the pipes going to the schools.
“You have to make sure the pipe is just big enough to serve the school and not some additional development that would otherwise contravene the value system that is in the Growth Management Act,” he told reporters after the veto.
You have to make sure the pipe is just big enough to serve the school and not some additional development that would otherwise contravene the value system that is in the growth management act.
Gov. Jay Inslee
He asked the Legislature to redraft the bill and get it to him before the end of the 30-day special session, which started Monday.
“I’m very confident that we can fashion a way to do that,” Inslee said.
Along with adding a requirement about the size of the pipes, he wants to make sure school districts “demonstrate that there are no feasible alternatives” to having a school outside of urban growth area.
Inslee and officials from his office didn’t explain what constituted a “feasible alternative.”
Organizations, such as Seattle-based Futurewise, previously argued that the districts have many land options in the urban growth area that they choose not to use.
But Kennewick Superintendent Dave Bond and Richland Superintendent Rick Schulte said the available land either isn’t for sale, isn’t near homes or isn’t in a location they can build on.
Schulte, who helped shape the bill, said officials with the Washington State School Directors Association say Inslee’s office and the Legislature have begun working on a new bill.
We had enough votes before it was vetoed. I’m hoping that’s still the same. We certainly need it. Right now in the Tri-Cities, we’ve run out of room. We need to be able to build outside of (the urban growth area) for our schools.
Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick
“Anything else I’ve heard about (House Bill) 1017 and any potential for further action is only speculation at this early stage,” Schulte said.
Kennewick, which is still looking for land for a future high school, would have been one of the most immediate beneficiaries of the new law.
“We are hopeful that during the special session the Legislature can make the adjustments to the bill that the governor identified and get the bill back to governor for his signature,” Bond said.
Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, chairman of the the House Committee on Environment, which initially passed the bill, was confident the House could put something together before the end of the special session. He was less certain whether the Senate would sign off on a version that limited the size of the connection.
Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said there should be enough votes in the House and Senate to override the veto. The House passed its version by a margin of 82-15 and the Senate vote was 31-17.
“We had enough votes before it was vetoed. I’m hoping that’s still the same,” he told the Herald on Wednesday. “We certainly need it. Right now in the Tri-Cities, we’ve run out of room. We need to be able to build outside of (the Urban Growth Area) for our schools.”
It’s a shame the governor, despite his continued talk of one Washington, is not serious about treating rural communities the same as urban ones.
Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley
Other House Republicans criticized Inslee’s move as supporting school districts in Western Washington, while dismissing concerns of growing communities on the East side of the state.
The section Inslee signed allowed the Bethel School District to connect to city utilities. Inslee said in a TVW interview that the situation is different for that district because the Bethel schools are in an unincorporated part of Pierce County.
“It’s a shame the governor, despite his continued talk of one Washington, is not serious about treating rural communities the same as urban ones,” said the bill’s primary sponsor, Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley. “The governor is sending a message that he would rather communities condemn existing housing to free up land for schools in urban growth areas instead of allowing schools to be built on open space outside of the artificial boundary.”
Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, called the move another example of Olympia bureaucrats believing they understand the situation better than local school officials.
“It’s illogical to continue having schools placed in industrial zones when there is oftentimes available land outside urban growth boundaries that is more affordable and makes more sense for students and school districts,” he said.