The Vader City Council has approved a resolution supporting a transfer agreement giving their water system to Lewis County, with an opportunity for the city to reacquire the system within 10 years.
The management of Vader's system had been given to Lewis County by a court order in early 2010 in light of significant leaks in the system, which Vader could not afford to repair at the time.
City and county officials have spent subsequent years negotiating in what way the system would officially become county property, and the present agreement deeds Vader's system in its entirety, including the city's water rights to the Cowlitz River, to Lewis County for no exchange of funds or resources.
Though Lewis County is acquiring the system for free, Vader could also earn the system back without compensation, but they are required to meet specific conditions and must do so by 2024.
Firstly, the city is required to pass two state audits without any violations, in light of the misappropriation of $120,000 in city funds discovered by auditors in 2010. The funds, which have since been paid to appropriate creditors, contributed to Vader's inability to care for their system, and also led to a significant reduction in city services which Vader has yet to fully recover from.
The city is also required to maintain their sewer system without it falling into similar receivership challenges, specifically in light of the city's current need to upgrade their aging sewer plant for potentially millions of dollars, as well as correct systemic inflow and infiltration problems.
Attorney Joe Rehberger, representing Vader in the matter, said few amendments are expected to be made to the agreement once finalized, with a complete document expected by the end of December. One such amendment deals with the city's ability to shut off water service through the county for customers who have failed to pay for sewer service, with Rehberger reporting this specific matter, given its lack of precedence, is expected to be decided by the State Attorney General's Office by February.
The County Commissioners had previously resolved to support the agreement during their Oct. 28 meeting and Rehberger said all that remains is for approved amendments to be added to the agreement and for final approval to be given by Lewis County Superior Court.