WA lawmakers greenlight $4B of construction projects
- The Washington state Legislature has approved $4.2 billion of state construction projects after resolving a dispute over the use of domestic water wells in rural areas, according to an Associated Press report published by U.S. News & World Report.
- The state's capital plans include public works projects, increased mental health treatment capacity and affordable housing, as well as primary and K-12 school construction.
- Holding up the construction program was a disagreement over how the private wells in question would impact nearby rivers and streams, and those with well-established water rights. A 2016 Washington State Supreme Court decision, known as Hirst, virtually halted the drilling of wells, leaving some landowners unable to build homes. A late compromise allowed landowners to drill household wells, among other rights.
Any kind of construction near water, or the diversion of water to allow for construction, is likely to raise concerns among environmental and other special-interest groups. One such instance is taking shape in a California legal battle over Gov. Jerry Brown's Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley tunnel project, California WaterFix. Brown has proposed diverting water from the Sacramento River into two, 35-mile southbound tunnels, thereby doing away with the need to use pumping stations, which harm fish.
The governor's $17 billion plan has been met with as many as 58 lawsuits, according to The Sacramento Bee, on behalf of local agencies, fishers, Native American tribes, and advocates for the environment among others. Each group has based its argument on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a tool that those critical of certain state projects have used to try to stop those projects or, at the very least, try to run out the clock on them. For instance, the Mission Bay Alliance managed to delay construction of the new $1 billion Golden State Warriors arena in San Francisco for a year using CEQA.
Perhaps succumbing to either budgetary or political pressure, according to The Mercury News, Brown recently proposed a scaled-down version of the twin-tunnel plan — a single tunnel that would reduce the cost of the original plan by about half.
At the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in November proposed extending the Waters of the U.S. rule's effective date by two years while it continues to consider feedback on the regulation. The EPA is also working with the Army Corps of Engineers in a potential repeal of the rule. Opponents, including many in the construction and development industries, have argued that the regulation's overbroad definitions include the same protections for drainage ditches as they do for rivers and streams.
- Associated Press Lawmakers Pass Water Bill, $4 Billion in Construction
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