The Lewis County Board of Commissioners on Monday voted to renew a moratorium on building permits in place since mid 2018 in Onalaska’s Water-Sewer District 5.
Community Development Director Lee Napier explained that the current moratorium on building permits in the District expires Dec. 3 and that gaining early approval would allow her department to “stay ahead of the paperwork.”
The moratorium, as per county records, stems from a July 24, 2018 decision on the part of Lewis County Water District 2 to terminate its agreement to provide sewer service to property owners in District 5 until that district’s leadership could resolve legal and ethical issues of concern to District 2 leadership.
Because that resulted in there being no formal sewer service in District 5, Lewis County instituted a six-month moratorium on building permits in District 5 — the Birchfield development — in August 2018.
The county has renewed the moratorium every six months since, most recently on June 3.
When unable to resolve District 5’s issues, its two commissioners — Virgil Fox and Deborah Hill — requested for Lewis County Commissioners to intervene and take over the management of the district. The district has been embroiled for years in financial problems, interpersonal battles and ethical improprieties in the district which services a few dozen residents in a largely unrealized development.
County Manager Erik Martin and Public Works Director Josh Metcalf have taken the lead in managing the district’s assets in the interest of protecting the area’s inhabitants.
In their plan to assume operations of Onalaska’s Water-Sewer District 5, Lewis County officials have provided construction, maintenance, administrative and engineering services to the district. Under the terms of the proposed interlocal agreement, the district would reimburse the county for services rendered.
“Moratoriums by design can be up to six months and during that time, the expectation in state law is (the district) should be working on the issues to resolve it,” said Napier. “If those issues are not resolved in six months, the board can continue to extend (the moratorium).”
In previous discussions, Martin suggested that a permanent “sooner than later” takeover of District 5 would be his preference to ensure an overall stabilization of the district’s financials and its public services.
“I know everyone has been working hard to resolve this issue, but I know it’s in negotiations. I know Erik and Josh are working very hard. I appreciate their efforts,” offered County Commissioner Gary Stamper before he and his fellow commissioners approved the moratorium extension with no further discussions.