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County reaches agreement with Milton to place lawsuit on hold

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Blue piping pictured above makes up the water utility fixtures at the center of a lawsuit recently filed by Lewis County seeking to prevent access to the Vader Water System by Seattle developer Brandon Milton. The county has argued the water main on Milton's property was built without regulatory approval while Milton says such actions are really attempts to inhibit a proposal for a marijuana production and processing facility at the site. As of Oct. 3, both parties have filed a stipulation stating they wish to take no further legal action in the matter and will seek a settlement out of court.

Lewis County and Seattle developer Brandon Milton have reached an agreement to seek no further action in a lawsuit filed at the end of last month attempting to block Milton's access to the Vader water system.

In the agreement, both parties stipulated they wish to maintain the current status quo, including Milton's lack of access to utilities, and are seeking a resolution out of court amid arguments Milton had attempted to hook into the water system without regulatory approval.

Detailed in a complaint filed on Sept. 29, Lewis County, who has owned and administrated the Vader water system since 2010, argued Milton installed a six-inch water main last year on industrial property he owns in Vader without first submitting engineering plans, and then hooked into the water system on his own without contacting utility officials.

Emails in the complaint state Milton was then required to immediately disconnect while he and the county entered into talks on how to resolve the situation, with the county offering Milton one of three options: to decommission the line and allow a one-inch line to be installed; to decommission the line and submit engineering plans for a six-inch main; or to allow the county a five-year testing period to monitor the main while requiring Milton to install additional fixtures to facilitate testing as well as contribute a $40,000 deposit.

While the emails indicated Milton initially sought the third option, his engineer sent the county a letter on Sept. 17 stating Milton did not believe any of the options were viable and insisted the county grant him access to the system within 15 days.

Out of concern Milton may again attempt to connect himself to the system without approval, the county filed suit seeking an injunction barring him from doing so, stating it is their purpose to protect the system from potential threats to public health.

At the center of the recent emails documented in the suit has been Milton's intended use of the property, as he had originally submitted plans for a wrecking yard/auto parts business called Absolute German, then announced in October of last year he is applying for a license to also establish a marijuana production and processing facility at the site.

Milton has said, since coming forward with such intentions, he has noticed a trend of increasing hostility from officials and feels their efforts to block his access to utilities are really an attempt to block the development of his potential recreational marijuana business.

"After the news reported my interest in the possibility [of a marijuana business], the relationship with LCDPW (Lewis County Department of Public Works) quickly deteriorated," he said, stating he had purchased his water hookup from the City of Vader before Lewis County took over the system and is simply attempting to develop his property according to the guidelines Vader had in place at that time.

But the county has said Milton's intentions for the property are not the issue, and they are instead concerned a private property owner is attempting to hook into the water system without having acquired proper approval.

"It's not a self-help kind of enterprise," said Deputy Prosecutor David Fine, representing the county, adding state standards do not allow a landowner to simply build utilities or hook into a public water system on their own initiative.

Fine explained, from the county's perspective, the lawsuit is a matter of maintaining the standards all developers must follow and, with the current agreement in place leaving the issue at a legal stand-still, the county feels they have obtained the short-term results they were looking for. He added his client is "very happy" to be seeking a resolution out of court.

If granted access to the water system, Milton has said he would be able to immediately open Absolute German, adding current developments at his property remain within that intent.

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