Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"City eagerly awaits a decision from Department of Ecology"

As this story from last Saturday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News makes clear, it's more than just April and myself that want the Hawkins Companies water rights transfer to succeed and King Solomon and Queen Nancy to give up their pointless protests. The Hawkins retail development in the Pullman-Moscow Corridor is a win-win for everyone in Whitman County.
Mayor: Water-rights transfer would be a boon to economic development

A proposed development just west of Moscow city limits could have a profound effect on a tiny town about 12 miles away.

The city of Colton stands to receive 100-acre feet of water rights if the Washington State Department of Ecology approves a water-rights transfer between the city and Boise-based Hawkins Companies. Hawkins wants to build a 700,000-square-foot retail center in the Pullman-Moscow Highway corridor, just across the state line from Idaho.

Colton wants to grow.

Colton Mayor Greg Eylar said, if approved, the water rights will help the city attract new residents and businesses.

"We are trying to keep our town growing and we had to have more water," Eylar said. "We have water, we just didn't have the water rights to pump what we need."

The Whitman County Water Conservancy Board recommended approval of the company's water-rights transfer requests in July, but the Department of Ecology still must give final approval to the transfer. Ecology has until Sept. 8 to ask for additional information or approve or deny the transfer.

Colton resident and developer Greg Schultheis has plans to help the city grow, but those plans hinge on the Department of Ecology's decision.

Schultheis and seven of his siblings own SB7, Inc., which currently owns 40 acres inside Colton. The company has been developing lots for homes since 2004, but the city's lack of water rights has made the process slow and difficult.

"The water-rights transfer is a big deal for the town," Schultheis said. "It certainly helps (my family's) business and will help the city attract businesses."

Schultheis said the city must follow the same regulations that apply to larger metropolitan areas like Seattle and Spokane, and the regulations make it difficult for smaller towns with little water rights to grow.

"It is a battle. The state has one set of rules and it applies to everyone, whether you are putting in two homes or 200," Schultheis said. "It is a lot of red tape and sitting around waiting for a call."

Schultheis said Colton applied for additional water rights from the Department of Ecology in April 1994, but the application has yet to reviewed.

"It became pretty obvious the Department of Ecology is not interested in helping small towns survive," Schultheis said.

SB7, Inc. has managed to develop and sell 16 lots over the last three years. Each lot is approximately one-third of an acre. The company started developing 12 more lots last week with the knowledge that the water-rights transfer was in its final stage.

In addition to SB7, Inc., Schultheis and one of his brothers started a construction company called Wheatland Builders, which already has constructed homes on two of the lots that have been sold. He hopes to continue to build a few homes each year and help the city earn additional revenue through property taxes and building permits.

"We are trying to get families into town to keep the schools open," Schultheis said. "That was one of our main goals when we started.

"We are seeing people interested in being here," he added. "We are not trying to build 50 homes a year - just a few at a time."

Schultheis said the transfer also will make it possible for businesses to relocate to the city.

"If a business wanted to come in that needed a large amount of water we didn't have it," Schultheis said.

Schultheis said Colton's location has much to offer and the city would welcome new businesses.

"It is a great location for businesses and we need businesses," Schultheis said. "Any new business is good - it doesn't matter what it is."

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