Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"Government officials, developer negotiate water rights"

From today's Lewiston Tribune:
Representatives of the Hawkins Companies, the Washington Department of Ecology and the cities of Moscow and Colton continued mediation talks in Spokane late Tuesday night over disputed water rights transfers.

Moscow City Councilor Wayne Krauss, reached by cell phone at around 9:30 p.m., said the talks were still in session. All participants, Krauss added, signed a confidentiality paper when the talks began in the morning and he declined further comment about the negotiations.

Krauss said he expected the talks to end late Tuesday night and members of the Moscow City Council might discuss the outcome during an executive session Monday.

Hawkins has proposed building a 700,000-square-foot shopping center adjacent to the Moscow city limits just over the state line in Whitman County. The development company secured water rights transfers for the development, then Moscow Mayor Nancy Chaney, with council approval, appealed the transfers.

Hawkins representatives have said they need the water rights before drilling their own wells. Moscow had refused to offer water and sewer service to the development.

The city of Colton got involved when officials there agreed to swap water rights with Hawkins before Chaney's appeal brought the transfer to a halt. The appeals, said Colton developers, have brought a halt to construction in their town.

Several people, including a pro-development citizens group in Whitman County, have called on members of Moscow's new city council to rescind the appeals and let Hawkins start construction. The appeals remain scheduled for hearings later this spring. The mediation gathering was organized recently in hope of finding a quicker resolution.

In the meantime, the three Whitman County commissioners indicated they may make a decision by Monday whether to issue $10.5 million worth of bonds to build infrastructure, including water service, for the Hawkins development. The commissioners have championed the Hawkins shopping center and criticized Moscow officials for jumping over a state line to take legal action.

Chaney said her appeals were filed because of concern for the region's groundwater. Critics continue to say the mayor and members of the former city council in Moscow really want to stop retail development in the Moscow-Pullman corridor. The Whitman County commissioners have all gone on record that they hope the Hawkins development will be the start of even more retail development throughout the eight-mile corridor.

As planned, the Hawkins shopping center would be anchored by a Lowe's home improvement center and could include other big-box retail stores.

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