Ken Spring doesn't need to pay for city water anymore to irrigate his 85 young fruit trees on his 3-acre Longview property off 33rd Avenue.
That's because three months ago, he installed a 30-foot-tall refurbished farm windmill to power a pump that draws well water into a 500-gallon storage tank. Spring bought the vintage 1940's windmill — the tail of which is peppered with .22 caliber bullet holes — from a man he met at a car swap meet in Puyallup.
"I just always thought they were cool," said Spring, 71. "I've had several neighbors call and say how great it is."
The city of Longview, however, doesn't think the windmill's great. Spring put it up in his fenced back lot without a permit — in defiance of city planning officials.
Spring inquired more than a year ago about getting a windmill permit. At that time, city staff told him because Longview doesn't have any windmill regulations on the books yet, the issue needed to go before the city Planning Commission.
Spring was given two options:
• One, he could pay the city $2,200 to request a zoning change that would allow windmills under to-be-determined conditions, Community Development Director John Brickey said Wednesday. The fee would pay for staff research and analysis, a report to the Planning Commission and a public hearing. In addition, Spring would need to pay another $532 for a state environmental review.
• Two, Spring could argue windmills are a community issue and ask a City Council member to put it on a council meeting agenda for discussion, which would require a second council member's signature. A council majority could direct staff to create a draft regulation and take it through the public process for adoption, Brickey said.
"I'm not going to pay $3,000 to take it before the Planning Commission. ... It's the principle of the thing, not the money," Spring said Wednesday. "I mean it's ridiculous. I thought they'd be happy to give me a permit — it's a green project."
He did ask Councilman Ken Botero to get the issue on the council's agenda, but nothing happened, Spring said.
Spring, who says he's "always been a permit person," received city permits to drill the 80-foot-deep irrigation well. Then he called a state-certified engineer to supervise and sign off on the windmill project's construction.
Finally, the windmill was up and whirring in the breeze. Spring and his wife would watch it spin on its axis as the wind shifted. Weeks passed, and they heard nothing from City Hall.
"I was just beginning to think they were going to let me alone," Spring said Wednesday.
Last week, Brickey found out about the windmill. He contacted Spring, who is a regular presence at City Council meetings and doles out strong opinions and tongue-lashings when he sees fit.
"We talked about that it would be gone over his dead body and that he does keep weapons at his property," Brickey said. "I personally don't disagree that his location might be an appropriate location for a windmill. But we haven't gone through the public process of how to regulate it and how to prevent it from being a hazard to neighboring properties."
Brickey plans to ensure the city is on firm legal ground and then take "corrective action." Such action probably would be limited to civil infractions or a misdemeanor charge, he said. If Spring refuses to pay the fines, the account could be sent to a collections agency, he said.
Anticipating a battle, Spring said he already has put $25,000 into a "windmill legal defense fund." He won't pay a penny in fines, he said.
"I think they don't like me, and I think they'll shove it as far as they can. ... I am not going to give up," he said. "They'll take my windmill down when they pry my cold, dead hands off it."
The situation may not come to that, however.
Wednesday, Councilman Botero said the windmill issue had fallen off his radar and he never talked to anyone on the council about it. He wishes Spring had called to ask what was going on.
"I don't see any reason we can't put it on the agenda and talk about it and ask the Planning Commission to consider it," said Botero, who went out to look at the windmill Wednesday and thought it blended with the neighborhood.
"It's possible to make it work," he said. "It's not a dead issue as far as I'm concerned."