Mayor hopes to avoid SKIA lawsuit

Coppola says all parties in dispute are ‘reasonable’ and should be able to reach agreement.

As the process of annexing the South Kitsap Industrial Area into the City of Bremerton picks up speed, Port Orchard officials are still struggling to secure a seat on the train before it rumbles by.

“We feel we have an investment on behalf of the citizens of Port Orchard that we need to protect,” said Mayor Lary Coppola, explaining why he and other city leaders are so keenly interested in playing a part in planning SKIA’s future.

The investment Coppola is referring to is the $21.5 million upgrade to the West Sound Utility District’s treatment plant the city funded five years ago with the understanding that the facility’s increased capacity would be used to serve SKIA once it was developed.

This agreement, Coppola points out, is detailed in a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2003 by the city, the sewer district (then known as Karcher Creek) and the Port of Bremerton.

However, as discussions between the port and the city of Bremerton have progressed — to the point where a vote today will determine if one of two sections of SKIA will officially be annexed — both Coppola and his planning director, James Weaver, feel they have had to fight to participate.

“We didn’t get a seat at the table until we jumped up and down and said, ‘Hey,’” Coppola said, adding that he still hoped all parties could agree on what role Port Orchard will play without having to go to court.

“Nobody wants to go to court over this,” he said. “Our position has always been that we prefer negotiations to court.”

As for Bremerton’s position, Coppola said he understands that as well.

“If I were in Bremerton’s shoes, I’d be doing the same thing,” he said.

In this spirit, Coppola said last week he is hoping to sit down with representatives from the city of Bremerton and the port to discuss their positions.

“Reasonable people can always come to an agreement, and we feel they are as reasonable as we are,” Coppola said. “I believe that if we sat down and had a frank discussion, we’d make more progress in an hour than we have in weeks.”

If SKIA is successfully annexed into Bremerton and that city is tapped to provide sewer to the area, Weaver said there currently are no other clients that Port Orchard’s expanded treatment facility could serve.

“The cost of the expansion would have to be absorbed by South Kitsap residents,” he said. “We would have enough capacity for the next 50 years.”

As for why Port Orchard officials did not present a plan for providing sewer to SKIA at a roundtable discussion earlier this month that included all stakeholders, Coppola said they felt the draft plan was not ready.

“It became clear to us that our plan was not up to the standard, and didn’t offer enough detail,” he said.

For the process of annexing into Bremerton, SKIA has been divided into SKIA North and SKIA South, both which need to submit a petition providing 75-percent of ownership support for annexation.

SKIA North — which makes up about 4 percent of the 3,400-acre SKIA — has already provided the 75 percent petition, which will be voted on today by the Bremerton City Council.

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