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Utility franchises

Utility franchises

In accordance with state law, utilities are required to have a franchise approved by the King County Council in order to use County road rights-of-way for the construction and maintenance of waterworks, gas pipes, telephone, telegraph and electric lines, sewers, cable TV, petroleum product pipelines, and other such public and private utilities.

In December 2019, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the validity of the portion of King County's ordinance that requires electric, gas, water, and sewer utilities to pay franchise compensation in exchange for the right to use the County's road rights-of-way. The Supreme Court issued the following holdings in its opinion:

  1. Franchise compensation is not a "tax"
  2. State law did not bar King County from charging franchise compensation
  3. King County did not need authorization from the State to charge franchise compensation
  4. The statute granting water-sewer districts the power to acquire necessary property rights to carry water along roads and to lay sewer pipe along roads did not permit water-sewer districts to use King County's rights-of-way without a franchise
By order dated May 14, 2020, the King County Superior Court vacated its 2018 ruling that King County lacked authority to impose franchise compensation or rent as provided in Ordinance 18403, and granted partial summary judgement in favor of King County, consistent with the opinion of the Washington Supreme Court. View or download the court order.

The Facilities Management Division is responsible for administering the ordinance and notifying affected utilities. For more information, email or call 206-477-9350.

Related Information

Franchise Application - new, renewal, amendment, or transfer

Questions about the application process?

Email the Real Estate Services Section

Instructions and costs

A. When is an application submitted?

An application is required for the following circumstances:

  • For a new franchise or a renewal of an existing franchise
  • For a short-term extension of an existing franchise that is about to expire
  • To transfer or otherwise modify an existing franchise

Application materials are submitted to the Clerk of the Council at the King County Courthouse, 516 Third Ave., Suite 1200, Seattle, WA 98104, or

B. What is submitted with an application?

  • Completed application form. Fill out and sign the application form.
  • Franchise area description. A complete and accurate description of the area of unincorporated King County in which the utility requests access to County road rights-of-way for its facilities. Please include the Section, Township, and Range of the proposed franchise area.
  • Map. A map showing the proposed franchise area in unincorporated King County, in an electronic format that is GIS compatible (if available). If the proposed franchise area is not fully occupied by the utility, it may submit a map indicating the location of all its facilities in the proposed franchise area, in an electronic format that is GIS compatible (if available).

Questions about the application process? Call the Real Estate Services Section at 206-477-9350 or email

The Real Estate Services Section of the Facilities Management Division is responsible for coordinating the negotiation, review and processing of franchise applications. The application is also reviewed by the Department of Local Services and the Department of Executive Services. Applications for water and sewer franchises are also reviewed by the Utility Technical Review Committee.

Adjustments are made to the base franchise agreement document as needed or by negotiation, however the franchise agreement must be consistent with the criteria set forth in King County Code 6.27 as follows:

  • All franchise agreements shall include provisions requiring the applicant to:
    • Be consistent with the King County Comprehensive Plan and Road Standard.
    • Abide by King County Road Standards and policies regarding accommodation of utilities on county road right-of-way.
    • Remove or relocate, at its cost, all above-ground equipment from the county right-of-way that poses a hazard to the general public.
    • Indemnify, defend, and hold harmless the County against damages, including environmental damages, caused by, arising out of, or incidental to the grantee's exercise of rights and obligations set forth in the franchise agreement.
    • Franchises granted for electric, gas, water, and sewer utilities shall include a requirement that the applicant provide the County with franchise compensation in return for the right to use the right-of-way.
  • Franchises for water and sewer utilities also shall be consistent with the following:
    • The utility must possess a previously approved comprehensive plan, if required to have such a plan by King County Code 13.24.010.
    • Be consistent with health and sanitation regulations of Public Health-Seattle & King County and the state.
    • Meet County standards for water mains and fire hydrants and other fire suppression water facilities and services as defined in state law (RCW 70A.145).
    • Repair, at no expense to the County, all existing facilities that it owns within County road rights-of-way, including all appurtenant facilities and services lines connecting its system to users, if the repair is required by the County for any reasonable purpose.
    • Adjust, remove, or relocate, at no expense to the County, existing facilities and service lines connecting its system to users, if the County determines the action is reasonably necessary to allow for an improvement or alteration planned by the County in the road right-of-way.
    • Additional requirements when facilities connected to the applicant's system are within the ROW and that the applicant does not own are described in King County Code
  • When the preliminary review/negotiation is completed, and the applicant and King County agree on the franchise terms and conditions, the application is transmitted from the Executive to the County Council for final review.

    • The Clerk of the Council will schedule a public hearing to discuss whether the franchise meets the criteria for use of county road right-of-way for the construction and maintenance of utilities.
    • If the franchise is approved, it is adopted by ordinance, which is presented to the Executive within five days. Within ten days after its presentation, the Executive shall either sign, veto, or partially veto the ordinance and return it to the Council. If the Executive does not return the ordinance within ten days after its presentation, the ordinance shall be deemed enacted without the Executive's signature. The franchise must then be accepted and signed by an authorized officer of the utility within the time period indicated in the franchise.
    • The Facilities Management Division will return a fully executed franchise with original signatures to the utility, the Clerk of the Council, and the Real Estate Services Section.

    Application Fee

    Amount: $2,500

    Fee is for the administrative costs incurred by the county in the reviewing and processing of the franchise application. FMD will send an invoice for this fee at the time of franchise issuance.

    Reimbursement of Actual Costs

    Amount: Varies

    You may be required to reimburse the county for the actual costs incurred by the county in the reviewing and processing of the franchise application, to the extent the costs exceed that covered by the application fee. If reimbursement is necessary, it will be indicated on the invoice you receive at the time of franchise issuance.

    Franchise Compensation

    Amount: Varies and may be affected by the amount of right-of-way used and number of customers

    An estimate will be provided during the preliminary review/negotiation process.  The franchise application fee, any reimbursement of actual costs, and costs incurred for fire suppression water facilities and services will be credited against the franchise compensation amount.  You will receive an invoice that includes an accounting of the charges and credits at the time of franchise issuance.

    Advertising Fee

    Amount: Varies

    Fee is for the full advertising costs associated with the application. This fee will be billed to you separately by the Clerk of the Council. Advertising fees are not refundable, even if the application is disapproved.