The sight of that one remaining well, erupting from an expanse of blacktop in a downtown parking lot, is an eloquent reminder that our natural legacy is our responsibility. -- Jill Severn
Important letter about the future of the artesian well in Olympia
5 November 2008
Dear Mayor Mah and Council Members:
Fifteen years ago, Friends of Artesians was formed to create a permanent, publicly owned artesian well in Olympia. For all these years, we have worked steadfastly to achieve this goal.
When we couldn’t get an agreement between Diamond Parking and the City to make the well in the 4th Avenue parking lot a public facility, we turned towards the possibility of drilling a new well on Port property near the Farmers’ Market. For the last several years, we thought we were making progress.
That progress has been crucial to our ability to keep the well on 4th Avenue available to the public. The Department of Health has continued to issue an annual permit for the operation of that well only on the condition that we were making such progress, and on the condition that Friends of Artesians pay for monthly testing of the water from the 4th Avenue well.
Today, however, we find ourselves in an untenable position. After many years of trying to broker an agreement between Friends, the Port, and the City, we face a catch 22: We are required to have an agreement between the Port and the City in order to get a permit to drill a test well on the Port site. But the City has told us that you will not sign any agreement until the well has been drilled, tested, approved, and paid for.
There is another problem as well. Friends of Artesians had offered to drill and test the well, raise enough money for an endowment that would cover ongoing maintenance costs, and to turn over ownership to the City. Today, because of the economic downturn, a generous local well driller has been forced to rescind his offer to drill the well for free. In addition, we know that in times like these, charitable giving is more likely to be directed to meeting basic needs than to a project like this. So we are no longer confident that we could raise the funds necessary to endow a maintenance fund.
A third obstacle is the shifting sand of City decision-making. Over many years, we have worked with city staff in good faith. At times, we’ve felt caught in an endless loop of planning with no real support, and no leader willing to step forward and solve problems. We have also received mixed messages about the City’s willingness to own the well. Fears about liability linger, even though we have responded to repeated requests to provide information about other cities that own and manage similar public wells.
Because of all these obstacles, Friends of Artesians has decided to disband. We’ve concluded that, in spite of our continuing belief in the worthiness of this project, we are not in a position to bring it to fruition. Our existence provides the illusion of progress – but that illusion has become an obstacle to progress.
We know that hundreds of people draw water from the well on 4th Avenue every day. They come from all over Thurston County and beyond. In late summer, when local wells go dry, some people depend on the well for water for their families and their livestock. Many well users believe the water is beneficial to their health.
We also know that artesian water has long been a part of Olympia’s unique history and civic identity. Our tests found that the pure water that erupts from that beat-up pipe in the 4th Avenue parking lot actually fell as rain in nearby foothills over 2,000 years ago. It is a powerful link to a pristine Earth, and an invitation for all of us to connect with and learn about the natural world that sustains us.
We hope that the demise of Friends of Artesians will give rise to an upwelling of public concern and support for the City to act, either in concert with the Port or on its own. The City’s leadership will be needed promptly, because Friends of Artesians will no longer be present to hold the permit for the 4th Avenue well, or to conduct the monthly testing required by the Department of Health. We will continue to pay for testing through February, 2009, to give the City or another entity time to make a decision about taking on this responsibility.
We have not made the decision to disband without grief and sadness. We all still share the same vision we began with 15 years ago, and we still hold out hope that it can be realized. But we’ve concluded that the City itself must take leadership to make it happen. We fervently hope that you will.
A further letter to the Port
Ed Gallighan, Director and Commissioners
Dear Mr. Galligan and Commissioners:
Enclosed is a copy of a letter to the City Council announcing the disbanding of Friends of Artesians as of February 28, 2009. As you can imagine, this was a sad and difficult decision, but we believe it offers the best and only hope for a solution to Olympia’s need for an open, flowing artesian well.
Before we disband, we want to thank the Port of Olympia for its tireless, creative and patient work with us to create a well on Port property. The Port has been an exemplary partner, and we deeply appreciate the many ways in which you have helped us over the last several years.
Nick Handy, your predecessor, worked tirelessly with Friends and the City of Olympia in the early years of our joint efforts to find solutions to many problems. Both current and former Port staff – including Heber Kennedy, Andrea Fonteneau, Kari Qvigstad, Sally Alhadeff, and many others – have also worked in good faith to help us keep the dream of a permanent public well moving forward.
We commend the Port Commissioners, both past and present, for the Port’s responsiveness to our small citizen’s group, and for your recognition of the importance of Olympia’s distinctive heritage of artesian wells.
Jim Ingersoll Ph.D.
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