Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"Water dominates Pullman meeting of public officials; Council, legislators discuss effects on growth"

We have an excellent legislative team for Pullman. They all understand that environmental regulatory overkill causes the lack of affordable housing for working people and stifles economic development in Pullman. From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Water issues dominated much of the discussion in a town hall meeting between the Pullman City Council and Washington's 9th District legislators Tuesday.

Council members were joined by Sen. Mark Schoesler, Rep. Steve Hailey and new Rep. Joe Schmick to discuss state issues of concern to Pullman leaders. Other topics of conversation included funding for infrastructure, support for Washington State University projects and affordable housing.

Hailey said the solution to many of the concerns relates to water.

"It's a very high priority for me," he said. "If you run out of water, you've got nothing."

Hailey said water issues often slow the construction of new homes - especially those considered affordable housing. Water rights and environmental studies are expensive, and questions regarding recharge of the Palouse's two aquifers are seen as a roadblock by some developers.

He said research efforts must be increased to determine how to maintain water levels and support growth.

Legislators will convene for their 2008 session Jan. 14. Much of the agenda will revolve around the state's supplemental budget, but Hailey said he plans to push the need for more water research in the coming months.

"You have to have sufficient water to support more housing," he said. "I see that as a hurdle that has to be crossed in relatively short order ... In my mind, if we can solve the water issue, we can tackle the affordable housing issue."

Hailey also said a multimillion dollar water reclamation project - a joint effort between the city and WSU - could be funded in 2009-2011. The project would treat citywide wastewater for irritation.

"It's very doable," he said.

Schmick said he plans to defend the city's needs for funding in order to meet what he considers obscenely high requirements pertaining to stormwater management.

Earlier this year, the Washington State Department of Ecology issued statewide permits designed to manage the quality and quantity of runoff from development and to control stormwater discharges into sewer systems. Implementation of the requirements are expected to cost more than $4 million for Pullman. The city has received a grant for $75,000 and may be issued an additional $50,000 to jump-start the five-year permit program.

"There has to be a balance between environmental concerns and those of the cities and towns," Schmick said. "Our side of the aisle is very sympathetic to that."

Hailey agreed that the Department of Ecology has set unrealistically high standards for cities like Pullman.

"We'll try to get you some relief," he said. "I don't know what the answer is, but we'll keep pecking away at it."

Schmick, who was recently appointed to his position, said the meeting with Pullman leaders was helpful.

"We're here to represent the 9th District," he said. "We take this information back to Olympia."


WHAT HAPPENED: The Pullman City Council met with Washington's 9th District legislators Sen. Mark Schoesler, Rep. Steve Hailey and Rep. Joe Schmick for a meeting Tuesday. Water issues dominated much of the conversation which also inlcuded affordable housing and Washington State Department of Ecology requirements.

WHAT IT MEANS: Legislators and the council agree that water is a major issue of concern in Pullman and Whitman County.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: Legislators will convene for their 2008 session Jan. 14 in Olympia. Schoesler, Hailey and Schmick said they will pass along their constituents' concerns to other state leaders.

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