Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, May 24, 2007

"Pullman takes airport reservoir off the table"

From yesterday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Pullman city officials have hit a snag in their efforts to extend water to the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport.

City Supervisor John Sherman explained to the City Council during its Tuesday meeting that a plan to construct a $2.7 million, 600,000-gallon reservoir to provide water for fire protection to the airport has been put on hold because some airport stakeholders are opposed to the project.

He said Washington State University, which initially was expected to provide the water to the airport through city water lines, has recently expressed its disinterest in the project. The project also was expected to potentially provide water to some future development in the Pullman-Moscow Highway corridor.

"We began to run into opposition," Sherman said, noting that members of the airport board also questioned the project. "Now knowing we can't use WSU, that option is dead."

Inadequate fire-flow to the airport has put any proposed construction of additional airplane hangers on hold. Fire codes require that 3,500 gallons of water per minute be accessible for up to two hours on the airport property. Water piped to the airport currently has a 1,000-gallon-per-minute capacity.

Sherman encouraged the council to re-evaluate other options discussed in February, such as the construction of a $1.5 million, 420,000-gallon reservoir across from the airport along the north side of Airport Road.

Councilman Keith Bloom said the city should move along with Plan B - and fast.

"The immediate issue is fire-flow," he said. "Let's get the fire-flow going first. If we don't get fire-flow, we're stuck."

Councilwoman Ann Heath agreed, noting concern for the future.

"I just want to make sure we're putting down what we'll need 10 to 20 years in the future," she said.

Sherman said more infrastructure is needed to link the reservoir to Pullman's water sources, and without financial assistance from WSU, the city may have to run a bond to pay for the project.

"Obviously, this is a complicated issue," he said. "There are some things that we'll have to look at."

In other airport-related topics, City Attorney Laura McAloon brought the council up to date on her plans to amend the airport interlocal agreement. Pullman, along with the city of Moscow, Latah County, WSU, the University of Idaho and the Port of Whitman County all have stakes in the airport and pay yearly contribution fees.

The agreement will provide clarification about the board and provide ease of reference on operation, management and obligation issues.


The council also approved an amendment to the 2007 budget, as proposed by Finance Director Troy Woo. The requests account for nearly $4.5 million in expenditure amendments, most of which will be reimbursed through grants. Amendments include $2.25 million to establish the 2007 bond fund for construction projects; $15,000 by the planning department to pay for the College Hill study, a cost that will be shared by WSU; and $27,500 for the library in benefits, materials and travel.

Woo also presented the council with a first-quarter financial summary through March 31, which showed that expenditures were at 21 percent - about $3 million - of the amended budget. General fund revenues sit at about $2.3 million - an increase of more than $300,000 from last year, Woo said.

Increases in sales tax, liquor profits and service charges account for the increase. Sales taxes are higher due to construction activity, Woo said.

"It's pretty much what we expected," he said.
First, I have been informed by highly reliable sources that the airport water reservoir project is still going to happen. By law, WSU's water supply is not allowed for private use and the city had planned to use some of the water for corridor development. So, the council plans to move the location of the water tower and not share the water. Too bad. The city council knows the corridor is key to our future development.

Secondly, it's interesting to go to these council meetings and hear what doesn't get reported. For example, one of the alternatives presented to a reservoir was digging a well out by the airport. But we have all seen what Moscow's reaction has been to the Hawkins Companies proposed well. The council joked about how a proposed well in that area would be received and decided it was bad idea. It's also not hard to guess which "members of the airport board also questioned the project" to provide water to the corridor. Let's be clear. The city of Moscow is going to fight ANY AND ALL development in the corridor, whether from Pullman or Whitman County, using any excuse they an come up with. Moscow does not share and play well with others.

On the budget issue, two major points were completely ignored by Hillary Hamm that Michelle Dupler used to always mention (Michelle clearly understood the important issues, while Hillary clearly does not.) First, building permits for 1Q 2007 are way down from 1Q 2006. The big building boom in Pullman is slowing down. As a result, Troy Woo warned that 2008 could see dramatically lower sales tax revenues. The only big construction project currently planned for next year is the new WSU biosciences bulding, from which the city of Pullman will not receive one penny of sales tax or property tax revenue. The roller coaster nature of construction prompted council members, the mayor and the city supervisor to comment on how Pullman needs a large, reliable, and sustainable source of retail sales tax revenue. No one used the "WM word," but everyone knew that is what they meant.

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