Hawkins Companies moved one step closer to breaking ground on its proposed 700,000-square-foot retail center just across the state line from Moscow when the Whitman County Water Conservancy Board recommended approval of the company's water-rights transfer requests Wednesday.
The board unanimously approved four water-rights transfer applications from the Boise-based firm, but the Washington State Department of Ecology must still give final approval to the applications.
"This is just one of the steps of several that we have to go through to get the water rights transferred," Hawkins Project Manager Jeffrey DeVoe said. "The decisions of the board are acceptable to us and certainly in line with what we need to have a Lowe's-anchored shopping center in the Palouse."
Water Conservancy Board Chairman Edward Schultz said the Department of Ecology will have up to 45 days to either accept, reject or ask for clarification on the board's recommendation. The board's recommendation becomes a firm decision if Ecology does not take action within the 45-day period.
"What we have done is more or less all the legwork for the Department of Ecology and now they have to make the final decision based on our recommendation," Schultz said.
In March, Hawkins Companies applied to transfer 120 acre feet, or 40 million gallons, of water to its proposed Whitman County development. The proposed transfers would come from around Pullman, LaCrosse and from the South Fork of the Palouse River near Colfax.
The company also applied to transfer 100 acre feet of a 700-acre-feet water right to Colton in exchange for 23 acre feet of water the city was seeking for municipal needs before reaching the deal with Hawkins. However, the board determined the original figures were inaccurate and reduced the water rights to 391 acre feet.
Still, Colton will get its 100 acre feet of water rights if Ecology approves the board's recommendations.
DeVoe said there often are errors in the records used to determine water rights and the board's recommendations are acceptable to the company.
"Part of the process that the conservancy board goes through is whittling out what is fact and what is fiction," DeVoe said. "Sometimes the records are inaccurate, so as they went through it they found some inaccuracies and corrected those."
The city of Moscow and Mark Solomon, a local activist, filed protests over the proposed transfers with the water conservancy board and the Department of Ecology in April. They argued the water-rights transfers involving Colton and the proposed site did not come from the same body of public water. However, the board cited an Ecology analysis and ruled that all of the wells associated with the application were in the basalt formations of the Columbia River Basalt Group and would be withdrawn from the same body of public ground water.
Moscow and Solomon also argued the transfers would deplete area wells and jeopardize a reliable water system.
Solomon said he was disappointed with the board's recommendation.
"We would have preferred a different decision," Solomon said. "I am not surprised, and I hope we will receive a greater degree of review at the Department of Ecology."
Schultz said the board's main goal was to ensure the protection of the public waters at issue and to ensure that the water was used in the most beneficial manner.
"I think what Hawkins is proposing is going to be to the public's benefit and ultimately to the county's benefit," Schultz said. "I think this is a big step for the county in moving forward and developing."
Schultz also said the city of Colton will benefit for many years from the ruling.
"What this does for the town of Colton is set them up for future development and expansion for a minimum of 20 years," Schultz said.
DeVoe said Hawkins Companies hopes to begin construction as early as this fall, and all that is holding up the process is approval from Ecology.
"Once they render that decision we should be off and running at that point," DeVoe said. "It is just one step tonight, and we will continue to design and plan and market and hopefully we will break ground in the fall and get a shopping center here."
July 26, 2007, 1:20 pm Mark Solomon says:
Mr. DeVoe can hope all he wants for a fall groundbreaking but there are some very significant hydrogeological issues that the Whitman Conservancy Board, all well-meaning volunteer non-technical people, deferred judgment on instead punting to the opinion of the Dept. of Ecology hydrogeologist who based his findings on, shall I kindly say, limited research. You can rest either assured (or uneasily) that comments of substance will be submitted to DOE. Any decision of DOE is appeallable to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearing Board, WA's administrative law body for such appeals, where the legal precedents ignored by the DOE hydrologist were established and are abided by. All documents related to the decision can be found on the PBAC website.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
"Board OKs water-rights transfers: Recommendation now goes to Ecology for approval; Hawkins Companies hopes to break ground sometime this fall"
More on the Hawkins water rights victory from today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Notice the stunning arrogance of King Solomon, both in the article, and in the comment he posted on the DN website. I cannot wait until he gets his public comeuppance and is exposed for the primadonna he truly he is.