Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, November 08, 2007

"Hell Will Freeze Over"

Colonel: General McAuliffe refused a German surrender demand. You know what he said?

Patton: What?

Colonel: He said, "Nuts."

Patton: Hah! Keep them moving, Colonel. A man that eloquent has to be saved.

- Patton, 1970
I didn't see eye-to-eye with outspoken Whitman County Commissioner Jerry Finch on the Rural Residential Zoning Ordinance, but he's still my hero. If he runs for reelection next year, he gets my full support. Jerry is one of the greatest champions Whitman County has ever had.

From today's Whitman County Gazette:
Moscow appeals water swap; Hawkins development in jeopardy, officials "frosted"

The city of Moscow has filed an appeal with the state Pollution Control Hearing Board over last month’s decision by the Department of Ecology (DOE) to grant three water rights transfers aimed at providing water supply for a state line strip mall.

DOE granted Hawkins Companies, Boise, three of the company's four requested transfer of water rights. The company is seeking water to develop a 700,000 square foot shopping center, centered around a Lowe's home improvement store in Whitman County.

County Commissioner Jerry Finch criticized the Moscow appeal as a blow to commissioners' efforts to broaden the county's tax base. Finch questioned whether Moscow was genuinely concerned with the environmental impacts of the development or if economic factors drove the appeal.

"What really frosts me is that they want to drill a well 250 feet away," said Finch. "They just can't let us do anything to grow."

Moscow has plans to drill well site number 10 north of the "A" Street, just east of the state line.

Moscow Mayor Nancy Chaney asserted the appeal stems from genuine enviromental concerns.

"Moscow's reputation as the big meanie is unwarranted. This is all about ensuring a sustainable water supply for the entire region," she said. "To think this comes from a desire for us to hold up our economic resources is a ludicrous assertion."

The county water conservancy board in July approved four transfers of water rights, totaling 120 acre-feet for the site, as well as a swap of 100 acre-feet with the town of Colton for a right to 23 acre-feet. The company could not use the 100 acre-feet from Union Flat Creek near LaCrosse at its site, but Colton could.

DOE upheld the conservancy board's ruling on three of the rights, but denied a fourth right, which accounted for 60 percent of the water the company was seeking. DOE officials ruled the company's mitigation plan was not sufficient to make up for impacts to nearby Paradise Creek.

The appeal of the DOE decision is the second time Moscow has voiced its objections.

Moscow appealed the development in early 2006, when Hawkins' application was going through the State Environmental Policy Act checklist with the county planning department. Following that appeal, the county reworked its appeal process while Hawkins fine-tuned their application.

Chaney explained that the Moscow city council was consulted on the appeal, though no formal vote was taken.

Commissioner Michael Largent questioned whether Idaho entities hold sway with the Washington appeal board.

"We need to make sure that Moscow's legal standing on an appeal is clear," he said.

While the city did not appeal the second application, it did submit comments stating its qualms with the development.

That would likely give the city's current appeal a legal leg to stand on, according to county commissioners, who consulted with Washington State Association of Counties Associate Executive Director Eric Johnson on the matter.

Moscow's appeal noted that the water rights in question come from two different sources of groundwater, and the transfer would allow Hawkins to pull excessive amounts of water from depleting aquifers.

"We have made efforts to stabilize our aquifer levels," said Chaney. "To allow these transfers to go through would set a precedent that would allow water rights to pull from disconnected sources."

Commissioner Greg Partch questioned whether the city is tuly motivated by environmental concerns, as he also brought up the city's proposed well site number 10.

"What kills me is the hypocrisy of the whole thing," he said. "If water is really the problem, why are they going to drill a well 250 feet away?"

Chaney countered that the Moscow well would have to conform to a 1992 agreement with the Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee to hold pumping levels. A well in the unincorporated county would not be subject to those regulations, she added.

"If this development was to be annexed by Pullman, there would be no discussion," she said.

Commissioners were decidedly upset Monday afternoon after receiving news of the appeal, which could again cool relations between Moscow and Whitman County.

A spirit of cooperation had begun to develop between the two administrations, as both sides of the border were consulted to develop a water resource management plan for Water Resource Inventory Area 34, which includes most of Whitman County and is fed by the Idaho mountains.

Largent said the "detente" that developed during the WRIA process is all but dead after the latest round of appeals.

"All this back and forth vitriol without a mutual understanding accomplishes nothing," said Largent.

Chaney said that she hoped the "cold war" could be resolved with more cooperation. She said the city is planning a regional meeting for January in the hopes of hashing out its differences with the county.

"Hopefully we can find a fresh start to work towards long-term regional sustainability," she said.

Finch doesn't feel as cooperative.

"If they don't start cooperating, hell will freeze over before I let them do something that comes into Whitman County while I'm commissioner," he said.
The Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union didn't end with a conference. It ended when the Russian people rebelled against a corrupt and authoritarian regime to gain their freedom.

I think that's just what happened this past Tuesday.


April E. Coggins said...

"Chaney countered that the Moscow well would have to conform to a 1992 agreement with the Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee to hold pumping levels. A well in the unincorporated county would not be subject to those regulations, she added."

The PBAC agreement is voluntary, as Moscow has shown us all these years when they thumbed their nose at the pumping levels. PBAC has no regulatory authority or Moscow would be in big trouble for over pumping.

Satanic Mechanic said...

If Whitman county wants Queen Nancy to go nuclear and have a nervous breakdown, propose a toll booth on the Moscow-Pullman highway right at the stateline. I would love to see the look on her ugly mug after she heard that!

April E. Coggins said...

SM: We could call it Checkpoint Chaney!