Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Monday, June 04, 2007

“Transfer of water rights is indeed in public interest”

From the May 31 edition of the Whitman County Gazette:
Mark Bordsen, Whitman County Planner, wrote the following letter to Ed Schultz, chairman, and the Whitman County Water Conservancy Board. His letter was in response to protest letters submitted against the proposed water rights transfer for the Hawkins Companies development in the Whitman County corridor zone along Highway 270 just west of the state line.

As the Whitman County Planner, I would like to address the protest allegations that the proposed water rights transfer is not within the public interest, I believe that allegation is false.

Whitman County has since the mid-80's looked to the State Route 270 area between the City of Pullman and the Washington/Idaho state line, coincidentally also the border with the City of Moscow, as a prime area for economic development. Indeed, even the City of Moscow recognized the economic significance of that highway and its traffic when they permitted the Palouse Mall, and subsequently other commercial developments extending from the west end of the Palouse Mall, now out to the state line.

Never in their development has the City of Moscow or any citizens of Moscow sought any comment from Whitman County about their developments and such impact upon Whitman County of the State of Washington.
Certainly, no one approached us when Moscow's well #9 was drilled to ask whether that might impair any water users in Whitman County. Moscow's plan to drill their proposed well #10, for which they admit not even having a water right yet, was never disclosed to Whitman County until the Hawkins development was proposed. Certainly, if that well is drilled, it will, as determined by the County Board of Adjustment, draw water into Moscow from the Washington and Whitman County side of the state line; Moscow's Public Works Director admitted as much under questioning from that Board during the conditional use public hearing.

The proposed development of the Pullman-Moscow Corridor District has generated a great deal of diverse opinion, as first policy (Comprehensive Plan) and then again as ordinances were developed. It is ironic that early in the 1990's, Moscow officials (City Planning Director and Planning Commission Chairman) are on record with the Whitman County Planning Commission as stating that the area of Whitman County jurisdiction adjacent to the City of Moscow was the most likely area for the extension of commercial development, if adequate water and sewer facilities could be developed, would be a natural extension of the business area in Moscow and would also be mutually beneficial to both the City of Moscow and Whitman County. There was even some thought that perhaps Moscow could provide water and sewer services for development in that area, although no promises were made. (A few years later, Moscow's Mayor went on record to state that Moscow would not provide such services because Moscow's citizens did not want their property taxes to support development outside of Moscow.) However, as the Comprehensive Plan and the subsequent Zoning Ordinance chapters were developed, Moscow did not seek to appeal those decisions, and no question about public interest or dispute over water was raised at that time.

The use of the land adjacent to State Route 270 was highly debated, and the opinions usually reflected not what was best for Whitman County, but that which was best from the personal interests of the person or entity expressing that opinion. Thus it was that home-to-job commuters valued free-flowing transportation, a quick ride from point A to point B. Property owners valued the opportunity to sell land for business development. Environmentalists were concerned about possible negative impacts. Business advocates in Moscow wanted rapid trips so that consumers could get to their businesses as fast as possible while business advocates in Pullman preferred the erection of a gate at the state line to make consumers shop in Pullman.

In 1988, Whitman County Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners adopted an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan establishing policy for the Pullman-Moscow corridor. Zoning language to establish the district and its uses was presented from the Planning Commission to the Board in march 1990, but the Board did not adopt it when they held a public hearing and received conflicting testimony, all opposed for different reasons (too restrictive or insufficiently restrictive). The Board asked staff and the Planning Commission if a better proposal could be created and presented to them.

The Planning Commission then worked on a zoning draft for the "corridor" for five years, and presented proposed comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance amendments, and a proposed actual zone in 1995. This was again rejected by the Board due to strenuous objections by some property owners who were unwilling to work cooperatively towards acceptable compromise language. In 1999, the Board decided again that another effort should be made, and requested the Planning Commission to look at the past work again. The Planning Commission did that, offered a few changes, and this time the Board adopted the proposed amendment to the Comprehensive Plan and the Zoning Ordinance, creating the Pullman-Moscow Corridor District. In so doing, Whitman County made a conscious decision that such action was definitely in the best Interest of Whitman County, the best "public interest." In fact, the shopping mall sought by the Hawkins Companies represents the epitome of the kind of development envisioned by the Planning Commission: thorough, well-done, complete.

Whitman County investigated, proposed and adopted that commercial zone for the corridor because it was absolutely in the best interests of Whitman County and its residents. It is well known that over the past 50 years, demands on services from county governments have intensified. No longer do county commissioners meet one day per month to transact county business. And although revenue from property taxes has increased over time, the ability to raise that tax income has been limited, and the amount of tax revenue received has not kept pace with demand for county government services. Counties in such circumstances must look to a more diversified income to be able to continue to provide services, or services must be cut in order for the budget to balance. As such, the Whitman County Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners both recognized the potential importance of the generation of sales tax revenue from the corridor. Since the proposed shopping center needs the successful transfer of existing water rights in order to be built, it is obvious that allowing such a transfer is decidedly in the best interest of Whitman County and its residents.

The irony that the City of Moscow contests this perhaps can be shown by asking "in whose best interest?" Moscow apparently currently feels such a development is not within Moscow's best interest. How so? If Moscow intends to drill well #10, is it because they anticipate more growth and more use of water, whether for commercial, industrial, or residential use? If so, why would Moscow have a greater right to water than a Whitman County development? We have heard no intention by Moscow to stop growing.

As for Moscow's allegation that this development is not in the best interest of Moscow, that also seems to be false. The development of the proposed shopping center would benefit Moscow because with the diversity of business opportunities in that area, the larger business community would create a larger service pie, attracting more consumers. In such a scenario, many businesses would benefit. For example, I live in Colfax and I try to shop locally: groceries, gas, prescription drugs, hardware, some dining, and so forth. If I cannot find a product locally, I choose to shop in the next nearest and biggest shopping area, which happens to be Pullman, in stores such as Shopko, Barnacle Bill's and Rite-Aid. If Pullman businesses do not have what I want, I go to Moscow, and if Moscow businesses do not have what I want, I travel to Lewiston or Spokane. The creation of a shopping center near the state line that has the probability of increasing the diversity of businesses such as those found in Lewiston or Spokane will mean fewer trips for me to those two cities. It will mean more money for our region.

Another benefit to Moscow that they have chosen to ignore is the increased employment opportunity to Moscow and area residents. The disparity of the minimum wage income between the two states will result in Moscow and Idaho residents who become successfully employed in the Whitman County area shopping center to immediately take home more disposable income. How can that not be beneficial to Moscow?

Why should Moscow, which is already taking a huge amount of water, be allowed to grow and use more water while Whitman County is denied? Businesses and residents within the Whitman County jurisdiction, as one of the six jurisdictions of water users, currently uses a pittance compared to the two universities and the two cities. Why should a business which desires a Whitman County location be rejected and forced to locate within an existing city or town, when ultimately the increase in that business' water consumption would occur whether its location is within or beyond the City of Moscow?

I hope the Conservancy Board will take into account my observations, and find that the transfer of these water rights is indeed in the public interest.

Thank you.


Mark Bordsen, AICP
County Planner
No one could speak to this issue more intelligently than Mark Bordsen. He knows the history and issues better than anyone else. I'm glad he weighed in on this issue. Hopefully, others will follow his lead.

Bordsen, like Gordon Forgey and others, see Moscow's opposition to growth in the corridor through the business competition lens of Realpolitik. I still believe, however, that Moscow's opposition is being driven more by ideological concerns versus economics. Queen Nancy is a true believer, as are many of her minions. King Solomon, I'm not as sure about. He strikes me as a "Green Machiavelli," burnishing his political reputation with his pseudo-enivironmentalist credentials.

It's quite obvious from the Queen's pronouncements, the many letters to the editor and the recent Town Crier column from Julia Parker (a nurse at Gritman just like Chaney was) that the new religion in Moscow is Eco-Communalism.

Eco-Communalism is one of the "Great Transition" scenarios espoused by the Global Scenario Group, an international conclave of starry-eyed goofball liberals.

Eco-Communalism idealizes simple living (remember Chaney's Mexican fishing village vision for Moscow?), local economies, and self-sufficiency. The ideology is often associated with socialism, communalism, and sustainability (Chaney's mantra.) Eco-Communalists envision a future in which the economic system of capitalism is replaced with a global web of economically interdependent and interconnected small local communities, and “green economics,” as espoused by Parker in her column.

Eco-Communalists worship "sustainable development." They believe in the innate goodness of human nature and "multiculturalism." They long for the "Good Old Never Were Days" before the Industrial Revolution when all economies were local, versus the globalization of our Post-Industrial age.

Eco-Communalists are really just Green Socialists. They attack capitalism with its exploited workers and all its trappings and lobby for a less materialistic society. "Urban sprawl," big-box stores, and growth and development in general to them are not so much environmental issues as they are cancers caused by "crass consumerism" and "greedy corporate irresponsibility." They see the "supersized" modern world as "unsustainable" and leading to environmental collapse (enter "global warming" and "aquifer depletion.") They envision a Utopia where government is decentralized, small "villages" are integrated with larger cities, local farming is the primary source of produce, and ecological thinking and interconnectedness are the new human values.

One of the prophets of Eco-Communalism, E.F. Schumacher, wrote in 1983's Small Is Beautiful
Ever bigger machines, entailing ever bigger concentrations of economic power and exerting ever greater violence against the environment, do not represent progress: they are a denial of wisdom. Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful.
Sound familiar?

If Chaney's motives were strictly fiduciary, a corridor deal could probably be brokered. But with this lot, who knows? As Thomas Sowell once wrote, “It is amazing how many of those who consider themselves 'thinking people' respond automatically to words the way Pavlov's dog was conditioned to respond to certain sounds.”

1 comment:

Barenjager said...

At least one official gets it. Go Whitman County!