Water district loses bid for city records

December 22, 2008

By Jon Savelle

A long-running legal dispute between Issaquah and the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District took another twist Dec. 1 when a King County Superior Court judge dismissed the district’s request for city records.

The issue goes back at least to June 13, 2007, when the district made a public records request to the city regarding a storm water facility called the Lower Reid Infiltration Gallery. This facility is the subject of a lawsuit by the district against Issaquah, in which it alleges that the city has not adequately guarded against the potential for contaminated storm runoff reaching the underlying aquifer. 

The city does use the infiltration gallery to inject storm water into the ground. City officials maintain that, after settling in a holding pond and passing through a filtration channel, the water meets quality standards. However the district, which operates a drinking-water well near the infiltration gallery, says that is not enough. 

In June 2007, the district filed its request for city documents relating to the Lower Reid Infiltration Gallery, and for water quality testing and other storm water-related records. At the same time, the district requested 20 other documents under the legal discovery process, some of which overlapped categories in the records request. 

Attorneys for both sides agreed to consolidate the requests through discovery. But the city was not willing to release every document requested. City Attorney Wayne Tanaka  informed the district as to which were being withheld, and he compiled a log of those records. 

Many of the records subsequently were made available to the district for in camera review, meaning privately in the judge’s chambers. Some remained withheld or redacted. 

On Sept. 11, the district filed a motion for an order to show cause — claiming that the city’s reasons for withholding or redacting documents were not satisfactory. 

This did not convince Superior Court Judge Charles Mertel, who found Dec. 1 that the city did not improperly deny access to its records and that its reasons for withholding some were adequate. Mertel further decreed that the city’s in-camera records review was reasonable, and that the city’s actions were lawful.

“The city did not violate chapter 42.56 RCW in connection with the district’s assertions under its motion to show cause, and that said assertions are dismissed with prejudice and without costs or fees,” Mertel said. 

“I’m glad. That’s excellent,” Tanaka said. “They could appeal, but the smart thing is not to appeal now.”

The district will not appeal or protest the ruling, said Water District Director Ron Little. 

“We are going to move on,” he said. “We are trying to get the Lower Reid Infiltration Gallery squared away.”

The gallery is not operating at present. In July, the state Department of Ecology ordered the city to manage and monitor storm water at the site and to install monitoring wells for that purpose; the city, the Department of Ecology and the water district are negotiating how that should be done. In the meantime, the city has suspended use of the facility.

THEN

Sammamish Plateau Water & Sewer District requested city records relating to a storm water infiltration system.

NOW

King County Superior Court dismisses the district’s motion

NEXT

City and water district officials are moving forward with negotiations related to storm water monitoring.

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