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Kennewick Irrigation District to sell land, transfer Elliot Lake system to city

Kennewick Irrigation District and the city of Kennewick are working on plans for the city to buy KID’s land next to the Toyota Center and take over one of KID’s potable water systems.

The city would own, operate and maintain the potable water system that serves 48 homes in the Elliot Lake neighborhood.

And KID would sell about 13.7 acres of land to the city for about $2.4 million, with some of the money helping pay to upgrade the water system.

Earlier this week, KID’s board of directors unanimously approved having their staff work with city staff to draft final agreements for the land sale and transfer.

The city council is expected to consider giving city staff the same authority during its Tuesday meeting.

Elliot Lake homes already are using city water, but it is delivered by a KID-owned system, said Evelyn Lusignan, the city’s customer service manager. The city has provided water to the homes for about 11 years, after the system’s wells no longer provided enough water to serve the homes.

The city and KID have been working together for some time on how best to transfer the Elliot Lake potable water system.

The city wants to own the land near the Toyota Center to better help with the redevelopment of the Vista Field area, Lusignan said. The 13.7 acres are northeast of the coliseum and abut Grandridge Boulevard.

The city hopes to work with the Port of Kennewick, which owns Vista Field, and support efforts to recruit the kind of businesses that will help further the vision for the area, she said. There are no proposals yet for how to use the property.

Coupling the property sale and the water system transfer means that KID ratepayers will be getting full value from the property, said Chuck Freeman, KID manager.

Freeman has been advocating for KID to turn over the Elliot Lake system to the city for years because of concerns he has about how it doesn’t fit KID’s mission as an irrigation district, he said.

Providing potable water represents a huge risk for the district, he said.

Elliot Lake homeowners would see what they pay for water decline once the water system is transferred to the city, Freeman said. Currently they each pay $60 a month to KID for potable water.

KID would continue to provide irrigation water to the Elliot Lake homes even if the transfer is approved, he said.

The city is in the business of providing utility services to city residents, Lusignan said.

“It’s a good transition, a good partnership,” she said.

KID provides potable water to fewer than 150 customers, Freeman said. KID owns and operates the Lorayne J potable water system in Richland and also hopes to have Richland take over that system someday.

“The systems are safe,” he said. “It’s just not good public policy for an irrigation district, in my opinion, to have them.”

The Elliot Lake potable water system needs to be brought up to city standards before the transfer can occur, Lusignan said.

Freeman said the aging system is beyond its useful life and needs to be replaced. The improvements might cost from around $600,000 to $900,000.

If KID did that on its own, it would have required forming a local improvement district, he said. The homeowners could have been responsible for paying $14,000 each.

Instead, the city and KID plan to apply for a state Department of Health loan to pay for the improvements. The Department of Health has been supportive of consolidating the Elliot Lake potable water system with the city system, Freeman said.

Half of the loan from the Department of Health would not need to be repaid, Lusignan said. The loan could be between $850,000 to $1 million and the state would forgive half of that.

Of the $2.4 million the city would pay KID, about $300,000 will go toward the cost of upgrading the potable water system, Freeman said. KID also has a reserve of $136,000 that can help pay for the improvements.

The city already has a Department of Health grant to cover preliminary design work, Lusignan said.

The city included the $2.4 million in the bond the city council approved in March, Lusignan said. That bond also is paying to build and equip the city’s fifth fire station. The bond will be paid back using existing capital improvement program dollars.

KID and city officials have not had a chance to meet with Elliot Lake residents yet. Officials plan to go over possible improvements and what the change could mean.

It could take around 18 months for the transfer and land sale to be completed, Freeman said.