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Proposal of Friends of Artesians to the City of Olympia

16 May 2001

I. Background

Friends of Artesians (FOA) was formed in 1996 for the sole purpose of ensuring that there is a public, accessible artesian well in or near downtown Olympia. FOA members share the belief that artesian wells are a distinctive part of Olympia's history and identity that is in danger of being irrevocably lost. FOA was founded by local citizens to counter the diminishing public access to artesian wells and artesian water in Olympia.

Friends of Artesians is affiliated with The Community Foundation, which provides fiscal sponsorship, financial oversight, and technical assistance. The Community Foundation is a non-profit umbrella organization that supports charitable activities in Thurston, Mason and Lewis Counties.

FOA has a small corps of active members, a mailing list of 500, and a donor base of 80 individuals who have made contributions ranging from less than $1 to $1,500. In addition, several professionals - a hydro-geologist, a well-driller, a writer, an engineering firm, an architect, an artist, and a local attorney, to mention just a few - have made substantial in-kind contributions. FOA members and supporters include local businesses, and people of every age and walk of life. FOA's donors and participants believe that artesian wells and artesian water are an important part of Olympia's history and civic identity, and that free public access to an artesian well is a part of Olympia's unique heritage.

Similar heritage wells exist in two communities: Ashland, Oregon, and Salt Lake City, Utah. In both cases, these wells are owned and maintained by local municipalities, and are regarded as important resources both for local use and as tourist attractions.

Over the past several years, FOA, working cooperatively and informally with both public agencies and private parties, has evaluated various potential public well locations. FOA concluded that such a facility should be located on land owned by the Port District of Olympia, just east of the Farmers' Market. While other potential sites on Port land and elsewhere have also been identified, this site has been deemed "preferred" by a variety of stakeholders, including users of the existing well on 4th Avenue.

II. The Diamond Parking lot well

Many downtown Olympia businesses used to have private artesian wells. Nearly ail of them have been capped. Currently The Spar and King Solomon's Reef are the only remaining business that use on-site artesian wells. A public drinking fountain at the corner of Fourth and Washington that was fed by an artesian well was decommissioned several years ago.

The last remaining artesian well that is accessible to the public is located in a Diamond parking lot on Fourth Avenue near Franklin Street.

Since its founding, FOA has worked to keep this last public well safe and accessible. FOA has paid (or marshaled volunteer resources) to have the water tested and the well maintained, and has engaged in protracted negotiations with a variety of regulatory agencies that have, at various times, threatened to shut the well down. While FOA and its allies have succeeded in keeping the well open to date, the long term prospects for the well are dim. The well itself is nearly one hundred years old, and the casing will eventually rust out. The permitting process for re-drilling it is formidable. Perhaps even more important, Diamond Parking appears to be unwilling to sell or donate the well site to the City or to FOA, and the land on which the well now sits is slated for development. Thus, the well's days are numbered.

III. The Artesian Well Facility

It now appears timely to approach the two governing bodies that would be involved in the establishment of a well at a new site on Port land - the City of Olympia and the Port of Olympia. FOA requests that both of these public entities initiate a jointly implemented, staged strategy leading to the establishment of a public artesian well at the preferred site, or, if that proves impracticable, at an alternate site.

FOA proposes the following specific elements of such a strategy:

  1. Siting the facility
    1. The site would be a vest-pocket park on land owned by the Port of Olympia, at the preferred site near the Farmers' Market, or an alternate site nearby.

      Hydro-geologists believe that it is possible to site a well on Port land, some of which is contaminated, because the artesian water lies far beneath an impermeable layer of clay which protects it from pollutants. They believe that there is no danger involved in drilling through possible layers of contamination to reach the clean artesian water deep in the earth. (This conclusion will be tested carefully before construction begins.)

    2. Selection of the site would be jointly agreed upon by the City, the Pert, and FOA.

  2. Design of the facility
    1. Design of the facility would be jointly agreed upon by the City, the Port, and FOA;

    2. All design costs will be borne by FOA;

    3. The facility be accessible to all, and include educational displays about water quality, the dynamics of artesian wells, and the role of artesian wells in Olympia's development.

  3. Ownership, operation and maintenance of the facility
    1. The City of Olympia will own, operate and maintain the facility;

    2. The Port will convey to the City, without charge or at a nominal cost, appropriate real property interests associated with the facility;

    3. The City will own the water right associated with the well.
  4. Funding
    1. FOA will provide to the City financial support for the facilities:
      • 100% of design costs
      • 100% of construction costs
      • a single, lump sum endowment of $50,000 to be held by the City in a designated account to support long-term maintenance and operations costs. (This amount is, we believe, the maximum practicable amount that FOA's can raise from community supporters of the well.)

    2. FOA, at its sole expense, will conduct all pre-facilities design testing (consistent with all applicable standards including those of the Port) of any well sites to ascertain water quality and quantity.

    3. FOA will secure the regulatory permits needed for testing water quality and quantity.

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