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Open and Flowing: The Unfinished History of Friends of Artesians

December 1991-Sept 1996 - The Beginning

In December, 1991 Jim and a beloved guest from out of town smelled coffee roasting at the new Batdorf and Bronson coffee shop. Standing by his new roaster, Mr. Batdorf gave a most excellent lecture on how to make a good cup of coffee: "Start with good water."

I asked "Good water?!? What is good water?"

Mr. B replied, "Water from the artesian well down the alley a couple blocks from here."

Jim told his friends about this excellent lecture from Mr. Batdorf on how to make a good cup of coffee. They said "Oh, yes! Haven't you heard? For such a long time there has been this desire in town, especially in the community of artists, to make a pocket park around the artesian well in the parking lot downtown!"

Joel Greene and Jim arranged to meet John Robinson and Herb Legg for breakfast at the Spar. Herb and John conspired to get an article published in the Daily Olympian to broadcast the idea of creating a permanent park around the well.

On February 24, 1992, The Daily Olympian published an article about the well, along with a picture of Jim collecting water. Dozens of phone calls offering time, talent, resources and money came to Jim the next day.

Herb Legg and friends sponsored a Public meeting at the Library. Over 50 enthusiastic people attended, and a passed hat collected $50.00

Yvonne McElroy called and donated $3,000.00. Stories from elders gathering water at the Diamond well told of its rich history -- the train station it originally served, loading beer, how town looked with wooden brick streets, the train wreck, the loss of the train station, the well left abandoned but beloved in the parking lot.

Jim approached Washington Department of Ecology's Dick Szymerek. Dick handed Jim the large volume of water law authored by attorney Charles Roe. Dick highlighted for Jim the RCW paragraphs on beneficial use.

"Does this mean what I think it means?" Jim asked. "Does this mean we can have an open and flowing source of water essentially "wasting" water, if it serves a higher esthetic, educational, historic preservation good or economic purpose?"

Dick said, "yes". The foundation in law existed to support the concept long held by the community of a park around the well supporting recreation, art, education with other economic and environmental and social benefits.

Jim asked the County Council. "Is this a good idea?" They saw immediately the value of the idea, and started brainstorming issues and solutions. Jim presented the idea to the City of Olympia Planning Commission. The Commission prioritized it and listed it among its favorite hopes with a $175,000.00 price tag in a projected budget.

Every person or group Jim asked expressed the desire for this project. Letters of encouragement were received from the Olympia Parks department and from the Art Commission.

But then the project hit its first brick wall: The balanced budget stopped all new development. The project was dormant for months.

1996 The Endangered Well And The Citizen Response

September 1996 the Department of Health ordered The Spar and Solomon's Reef restaurants to stop serving artesian water.

First Mayor Bob Jacobs advised local concerned citizens to formulate themselves a mission statement. Friends of Artesians established their mission as: "…to preserve and protect Olympia's heritage of publicly accessible artesian wells, and to promote good stewardship of these extraordinary gifts of nature"

1997 All Public Agencies Begin Solution Focused Summit Meetings

In July 1997 Greg Grunenfelder (Thurston County Water Department) met with Jim At Batdorf and Bronson to discuss concerns and hopes. Greg convened DOE, DOH, Friends of Artesians, and City staff to set rules and roles to address regulatory concerns and to keep the Diamond well open.

November 1997

After lengthy legal appeals and regulatory wrangling, the Spar and Solomon's reef were allowed to return to serving artesian water. The defense cost each of them $25,000.00

Friends Conduct Research Public Awareness And Fund Raising

Colleen Gillespie, The Community Foundation director, met with Friends of Artesians to help establish their relationship with the foundation. Jim met with the Foundation board and received their acceptance.

A car hit the well pipe, causing public concern. Jim was quoted in the Olympian of the citizen's effort to fix the well. Dick Scymerek and Mike Harris of DOE confronted and instructed Jim and Friends regarding well construction and water rights and water quality and the 'sisterly' relationship of DOE and DOH.

Jim met with Carl Johnson at DOH and received from him a two-hour intensive of the 10 health criteria for a well. Ownership of the wellhead is the first and most important criterion.

Arcadia Drilling, Steve Hatton, Karen Lohmann, Joe Tougas, Dorbie Holden, and Jim consulted at the well and began to search for the wellhead.

Nadine Romero, hydro-geologist, dedicated over 200 hours to studying and testing the well and water at Diamond parking lot.

Karen Lohmann, Dorbie Holden, and Steve Hatton produced engineering and artisitic drawings of the Diamond site to offer specific ideas.

Olympia High School students were challenged to design public well park ideas. The student teams then presented their drawings to Olympia City leaders.

Stan Biles ran for Mayor on a primary platform that included an expression of his interest in the artesian well project.

1998 The Artesian Forum... Under Mayor Stan Biles Leadership

By January 1998, Friends of Artesians had accumulated $5,000.00 in unsolicited money, and paid for hydro-geological research and chemical testing.

In March 1998, DOH sent a letter to instruct Diamond Parking Corporation to upgrade and maintain or close the well. Herb Legg and community members called Jim Ingersoll.

In April 1998, all parties met to establish roles and responsibilities and agreements to allow the well to stay open. Friends agreed to pay for monthly testing to allow the Diamond well to not be closed. DOE put a valve on the well.

Mayor Stan Biles created The Artesian Forum. Friends of Artesians, Olympia City staff, Thurston County, and Washington State DOE and DOH agencies, LOTT, Diamond Parking representatives, The Port of Olympia, The Olympian, and many special consultants met at city hall under Mayor Biles' leadership. The two-hour work sessions convened bi-weekly for 16 months. The group's goals were to find solutions to meet all regulatory requirements, and to realize the goal of a publicly owned, open and flowing well surrounded by a pocket park and with interpretive signing to teach and celebrate Olympia's artesian heritage.

The group began to explore how to resolve the issue of ownership. Diamond offered to trade parking lots with the City. City staff studied its parking lots and offered a fair trade. Diamond withdrew its offer when the City refused to agree to give Diamond Parking a contract to operate all the City's downtown parking venues.

1999-2000 - The Problem-Solving Search Continues

LOTT surveyed all downtown artesian wells with help from Friends of Artesians.

Amber Bell and friends logged 24 hours of 446 users people at the well.

Students from The Evergreen State College conducted social and economic data about the people who use the water.

Nadine Romero reported on ethnological features of the well users.

Another brick wall was encountered as it became apparent that there was growing reluctance on the part of the City of Olympia to own the well. Fears of liability were cited. City Manager Dick Cushing challenged Friends: "Find me another city that has such a thing and I will support the project."

A new Olympia resident appeared days after this challenge: "My grandmother used to take me to an artesian well park in Salt Lake City. I think it is still there." Friends called Salt Lake City officials to discover that she was correct and the well still existed.

The Freas Foundation granted $3,000.00 to allow Friends to send Harry Branch to film Salt Lake City artesian well park.

The Olympian's Editorial Board met with Stan Biles and Friends of Artesians and published its approval and encouragement of the project.

The Heritage Foundation recognized Friends of Artesians' efforts with an award.

Local artists contribute ideas and drawings. Money continued to flow to Friends from individual donors and grants and a bank.

2001 A Private/public Accord Is Made To Create Public Ownership

A path was created for accomplishing the project when The City agreed to enter a formal relationship with the Port and Friends of Artesians. The City agreed to become the owner of the well. Friends agreed to create the well and build and finance all aspects of the project. The Port offered a site for a new artesian well, and expressed willingness to enter contractual relations with the City for the establishment of ownership.

2002-2005 Finding A Site On Port Property And Gaining Approvals

On June 28 2002, DOE hosted all concerned agencies for a three hour planning summit. The meeting gave each agency time to list and voice its role and its specific technical requirements for acceptability and approval. The resulting list of requirements to approve a well park became a working road map for the Artesian well project.

Quotes from Don Meyer's (DOH) transcript notes of our meeting:

  • Bill Lichty: ...DOH responsibility is to provide safe and reliable drinking water; last in the approval chain. DOH has concerns:
    • Who owns and manages the well...
    • We believe the City of Olympia is best qualified and have exclusive rights within city limits...
    • Financially capable...
    • Properly cited...
    • Meet drinking water standards.
  • Art Starry of the County: "It can be a community asset… but it must be done properly. If we can see to it that requirements are met, we (would support) project."
  • Heber Kennedy, Port:…"We support Friends, even if it (park) is not on the Port property.
  • Bill Neal: "I've never seen such a clear set of roadmap directions on how to accomplish something by three agencies, on ANY project proposals. ---We'll make this into a project plan."

On June 29th the Olympian summarized this meeting saying Friends of Artesians must: "Obtain well site approval from the county, secure a preliminary permit form the state Department of Ecology, and obtain a water rights permit. That means the group must show that the overflow water from the well is put to a beneficial use, such as replenishment of a wetland. Friends must also prepare a maintenance and operation plan for the well. When those steps are accomplished, the state health department will consider approving the project."

The Port of Olympia began a multi year search for a site. Nick Handy led the investigation for a site on Port property. Friends of Artesian acted with patience for the next several years allowing the Port to do long range development.

Raphael Vrena, BJSS architect, and Karen Lohmann, artist and parks designer and landscaper, collaborated on engineering and artist drawings for a site next to Farmer's Market. These pro bono services are valued well above $1,000.00 for each professional contribution. The site was rejected because of Farmers Market concerns for parking pressure. Other sites were considered.

After rejecting 4 possible sites, the Port put a stake in the ground near Swantown Boat Works. Friends applied to DOE and DOH for permits for this site.

?On Sept 14, 2004, yet another brick wall was encountered: The County said "no" to the proposed well site based on concerns about contamination and mentioned the long-closed Franklin Street dump as a focal concern too near the Port site.

Friends of Artesians hired the Pacific Groundwater Group to research the Franklin Street Dump. In June 2005, Linton Wildrick, Pacific Groundwater Group hydro-geologist, published his report of the Franklin Street dump.

Linton Wildrick, also arranged carbon dating to establish the age of the water. He discovered the water age predating European settlement on this continent.

By March 31, 2007, Friends had created a web site, had spent over $20,000.00 on research, testing, maintenance of the existing well on 4th Avenue, and held $8,611.14 in unsolicited money in its account at the Community Foundation.

In June 2006, Regulatory Approvals Arrived!

On June 20 2006, DOH took the lead and granted a permit for a temporary test well.

On June 22 2006, DOE responded with a permit to drill and test a well.

But the issue of who would own the well remained unresolved. The City of Olympia had yet to make a commitment.

2007-2008 Where We Are Now: Establishing Ownership

Friends of Artesians has acquired approvals from DOE that accept Arcadia Drilling Company's well drilling plan, and also approvals from DOH. We have a donated well promised with an approved drilling plan. We have drawings of the site on Port property, and encouragement from the Port.

Beneficial use is established via the nearby wetland and other beneficial criteria. We have a plan of costs to completion and we have a plan for fund raising. A path was created for successful collaboration of all parties on June 28, 2002 at the meeting hosted by DOE. The steps have been guiding the long public process and dialogue with Friends of Artesians.

But still there is a roadblock. On March 31, 2007 a discussion regarding ownership began to reveal just how difficult this one would be to dismantle.

City staff (Victoria Decillo, Rich Hoey), Friends (Jim Ingersoll, Charlie Roe and Norma Schuiteman) and Port (Sally Alhadeff) began a conversation to create contracts to establish the relationship of ownership to the proposed site.

Throughout 2007, Victoria Decillo and Sally Alhadeff talk about contract language regarding the lease of the site and ownership and maintenance issues.

City Staff (Victoria Decillo) and Friends (Steve Hatton, Charlie Roe, Karen Lohmann, Jim Ingersoll) met to estimate project elements and costs and to hear Friends plan for fund raising.

But by the end of 2007, Olympia's City Manager had ordered City staff to stop working on the project. The brick wall of Olympia's reluctance to take ownership of the well became higher and thicker.

How Next Can We Proceed? Next Steps:

Friends of Artesians finds this long process and these multiple roadblocks frustrating, to say the least. But we know that we represent the hopes of thousands of people for a permanent public well, and the natural heritage of our community. We will not give up and go quietly away, because to do so would betray the many donors to our cause and the many people who rely on the public well not just for good coffee, but to provide water for their families and their livestock in late summer when their own wells are dry. A public artesian well is a necessity, a vital part of our unique natural legacy, and a critical piece of our "It's the water" civic identity.

In the months to come, we will be talking with both the Port and the City to push past today's barriers. We have proven that Friends of Artesians is patient, determined, and resilient.

We recognize that at both the Port and the City, recently elected leaders may not know the history of this project, or recognize the depth and breadth of public support for a public artesian well. We are mobilizing to change that – and to reinvigorate and renew our efforts to realize our vision of an open, flowing, and permanent public well that honors our heritage and celebrates our civic identity.

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Updated 2008/09/19 13:21:40

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