Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Whitman County Residents: Sign In to Keep Moscow Out

Below is my Town Crier II column from today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News. If you agree that Moscow should butt out of the corridor, please sign the Businesses & Residents for Economic Opportunity online petition to the Moscow City Council here
Time for a Good Neighbor Policy on the Palouse

FDR’s 1933 inaugural speech unveiled a “Good Neighbor” foreign policy, whereby no state had the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another.

By that standard, Whitman County has been a good neighbor to Moscow for many years.

For example, despite the fact that a recent study commissioned by the Moscow Chamber of Commerce found that Whitman County had a net retail sales leakage of $158.4 million in 2004, the county has never once attempted to halt commercial development in Moscow along the state line.

When Nancy Chaney proclaimed after her 2005 election, “Moscow is on a new path, and it is a green one,” who guessed that path would lead to Pullman-Moscow Highway in Whitman County?

In January, Moscow submitted State Environmental Policy Act comments alleging the relocation of James Toyota to the Pullman-Moscow corridor would pollute Paradise Creek. Following an abortive SEPA appeal last year, the city recently filed a protest of Hawkins Companies’ four water rights transfers for a retail development in the corridor. The city claims these transfers would reduce the area’s water supply and reduce flow for a planned well.

The Moscow representative at the Water Conservancy Board meeting was asked if Moscow could meet the same standards it is demanding. Whitman County and Washington’s land use/environmental regulations are certainly not lax. The sales leakage is proof of that.

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a penalty in the amount of $134,000 against Moscow for breaches of the Clean Water Act. The 950 violations found between March 2002 and June 2006 included phosphorus, dissolved oxygen, total residual chlorine and fecal coliform bacteria. The fine could have been as high as $2.5 million. Wastewater from Moscow’s treatment plant eventually flows into the South Fork of the Palouse River, which the Washington Department of Ecology recently concluded was an impaired waterway. Now, Whitman County is likely going to be penalized for the pollution that flowed over the border.

Lost in the debate over corridor development is residential water usage versus commercial usage. The Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee estimates that the average household with the average number of residents (2.35) uses approximately 111,500 gallons of water a year. About 236 new housing units were added in Moscow in 2003, 249 in 2004, and 289 in 2005. Those numbers were higher than in all but one of the previous 33 years.

Compare that with PBAC calculations that the Hawkins project will use around 39 million gallons of water a year when fully built out. Housing constructed in Moscow between 2003 and 2005 withdraws from the aquifer at a rate (86 million gallons/year) more than twice that of the planned shopping center. And housing growth continues unabated. Just last week, the Moscow City Council approved 27 new single-family homes.

This boom helps explain why, according to the PBAC, Moscow failed to meet the Ground Water Management Plan’s voluntary 1 percent (of 1986-90 average) annual pumping increase target every year from 1992 to 2005. The five-year moving average of annual pumping by Moscow over those 14 years missed the target by a combined 763 million gallons! In addition, Moscow exceeded the voluntary 125 percent (of 1981-85 average) pumping ceiling 50 percent of the time. Pullman, WSU, and the UI consistently fell well beneath all their pumping targets during that same period.

These facts make Moscow’s sudden commitment to water conservation hard to take seriously, as well as those who favor “sustainable, knowledge-based” industries in the corridor over retail. The employees and families of the Alturas Technology Park use more than twice as much water annually as a Wal-Mart Supercenter. There may be reasons to prefer high-tech companies to big-box stores, but let’s be honest; conserving water is not one of them.

The right of Whitman County residents to determine their own destiny is being hijacked by a government they did not elect. Moscow wants to hold the county to standards that it is unwilling or unable to enforce within city limits. Is it metastatic eco-communalism? Or is it simply a “we’ve got ours, now release the hounds” attitude? Whatever the case, it emphasizes the “ic” in the “symbiotic” relationship between the two communities.

There’s an old proverb that states, “Good fences make good neighbors;” especially those fences that keep out stray cows and meddling hypocrites.


April E. Coggins said...
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April E. Coggins said...

Thanks for the great article, Tom. It was right on. The people of Whitman County need to realize that the Hawkins Co. development will benefit the rural communities more than Pullman. Although Pullman is geographically closer, the tax revenues will help the struggling farm communities more than it will help Pullman. Among other things, the new tax revenues will help keep current roads in repair, and will build new roads and bridges. There will be new money circulating around Colfax that will radiate out to the rest of the county.

Quite frankly, with the State of Washington and the U.S. government inventing new and costly regulations everyday, we have the choice of raising tax rates on ourselves or creating new tax revenue. It's time we started building the Whitman County tax base, and stopped exporting our retail revenue over to people who are more than happy to take our money, but will turn around and use their profits and our own courts to stop us from providing for ourselves. There is something terribly wrong with this picture.