OCEAN PARK - R.D. Williams, president of the North Beach Public Development Authority (NBPDA), announced the purchase and merger of the Ocean Park Water and Pacific Water companies last week. These two private water utilities have served the north end of the Peninsula since the 1960s. The new company will be called North Beach Water.

Sid Snyder, long-time resident and past state senator, put some historical perspective on the news. "You know, this water project idea was started 40 years ago. Lyle Clark had the original vision. I think it's wonderful that the purchases are completed. The water system has helped the development on the Peninsula and benefits the residents, and the need continues."

The merger, which should be finalized in March, will result in a single combined water utility serving more than 2,200 residences and 300 businesses. The service area is north of Cranberry Road, south of Joe Johns Road, and runs east-west from Willapa Bay to the Pacific Ocean.

The North Beach Public Development Authority, created by Pacific County commissioners in October 2004, has a five-member board composed of local citizens - Williams; Ken Karch, vice president; Tom Downer, treasurer; Celsa Johnson, acting secretary; Jim Hagen and Brad Weatherby, directors.

Williams said, "We intend to create a public water authority later this year. We are quite proud of our accomplishment, as this process has been tested at every level within county and state government. We have established a model other agencies can follow to accomplish what we have set out to do."

Creating a public water authority, with elected board members, will require a ballot initiative and must be voted on by local residents. As an interim measure, an LLC limited liability corporation was formed in order to receive ownership of both companies; in effect, it is a "holding company" for both private utilities until the public authority can be created.

Other longer-term changes are in the works. The new company, managed by Phillip Leach, past co-owner with Virginia Leach of the Pacific Water Co., intends to tackle weaknesses in the infrastructure for water delivery by building a new 211,000-gallon ground level water storage tank at approximately 255th Avenue and "Z" Street.

DPR Building and Developers has been contracted to lay pipe that will tie the two water systems together and create increased pressure and water flow. Pat Richmond, son of DPR owners Debbie and Rob Richmond, said, "It's really been wet lately. We are waiting for the water table to drop so that we can begin the digging that will allow us to lay pipe."

Tom Downer, NBPDA board treasurer and a fire commissioner, said that the combination of the new storage tank and system tie-in should enhance fire-flow and is likely to decrease the price of fire insurance. Another benefit should be increased water pressure and water availability for residential and commercial uses on the north end of the Peninsula.

Other changes may not be so welcomed though they may be necessary to maintain the health of the system. North Beach Water will also be evaluating water rates, which have not been raised since 1999. A review of pricing of both water hook-ups fees and monthly water charges shows that current rates for Ocean Park and Pacific Water are among the lowest in the county.

Water is a critical resource, and community water systems are often take-over targets by private enterprise. When a private company from another region buys a community water system, the control for this precious resource often is taken out of local hands. Stewardship of our water systems will require good leadership and appropriate investment.

The community leaders on the NBPDA Board are following in the steps of Lyle Clark, who understood the need for a water company on the Peninsula. In the late '60s Clark started and subsequently managed the Ocean Park Water Co. He handed over the ownership and management to Peter and Bonnie Christoson, majority owners of the Ocean Park Water Company, in April 1979.

Both Pete and Bonnie Christoson and Phillip and Virginia Leach expressed praise for the purchases and hope that the new merged water utility will eventually be turned over to a publicly elected board.

Purchase of the two water companies was made possible through a combination of local subscriptions, low-interest loans from the Washington State Public Works Trust Fund, and water revenue bonds sponsored by the Cashmere Valley Bank. These supporters understand that keeping local control of water is critical to the ongoing health of a region.

An adequate and accessible water supply is also needed for fire protection. Fred Hill, commission chairman of Pacific County Fire Protection District No. 1, elaborates, "I hope that merging the water systems works. We need better access to water so that we can lower our fire insurance rating and be better protected."

But there are other benefits as well. As we all know, the commercial well-being of our community depends on having a good source of clean water. Cranberries, oystering, fisheries - key economic drivers in our region - all depend on water.

Port of Peninsula Manager Mary DeLong reinforces these sentiments, "It really makes sense for our north end communities to combine the smaller water companies. I understand that the NBPDA plans will improve our fire-flow for the Ocean Park downtown core and could provide increased water for our oyster industry as well. I applaud their efforts."

Eventually, the even more difficult issue of sewage treatment will have to be addressed by our community leaders as it is a critical part of the family of issues that center on water. But for now, simply securing local control of our water system is a coup.

"This is a real shot in the arm for the north end of the Peninsula," said Tom Morrow, President of the North Peninsula Improvement Association, which provided an early forum and support for local leaders to combine the water systems. "Community improvement is the principle goal of the North Peninsula Improvement Association and we support the efforts of the NBPDA."

North Beach Water will be holding a public hearing on Monday, March 27, at 6 p.m. at the Ocean Park Fire Hall to discuss the details of the new water system, plans for the future, and to answer questions about what this will mean for the Peninsula moving forward.

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