Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

"Hawkins puts price on growth; Company says infrastructure for proposed corridor development will cost $10.5 million"

From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Hawkins Companies on Monday asked Whitman County commissioners to sell bonds totalling $10.5 million to pay for public infrastructure for the company's proposed 700,000-square-foot shopping development on the Pullman-Moscow Highway.

Jeff DeVoe, spokesman for the Boise-based development company, also proposed the county and Hawkins enter into a public-private partnership in constructing public infrastructure for the site, just west of the Idaho state line. The partnership essentially would amount to Hawkins being responsible for the construction of public infrastructure and Whitman County agreeing to purchase it back at a predetermined price.

The public infrastructure would include a new water system, roads, sidewalks, and a sewer system. There also is preliminary talk of Hawkins constructing a fire station for the county at Hawkins' own cost.

DeVoe said the county would begin seeing sales and property tax revenues from the development of nearly $400,000 by the fourth year of a 30-year bond, according to conservative figures from the company's in-house estimator. Revenues would increase to more than $900,000 by year six, when the shopping center would be complete and full with tenants, and that revenue would remain steady until the bond was repaid. Tax income would be around $1.8 million per year once the bond was repaid. Any inflation would lead to revenue figures increasing.

Finch said the development would help Whitman County regain a portion of the roughly $80 million of retail sales it loses annually to neighboring markets. It also will provide living-wage jobs for area residents.

"It's going to be a big undertaking and it's going to change the landscape of Whitman County and Latah County," Finch said. "I strongly feel this will kick-start the whole economy of Whitman County. Once the ground is broken I really believe you are going to see a wave of people that want to get into the corridor.

"The corridor is going to be the growth engine for the county. Obviously I am excited about it."

Finch said the commissioners are going to consider all options before approving a bond.

"Much of the information (presented) I have seen, but we felt it is time to share it with the community," Finch said. "I want everyone to be sure Whitman County is going to do its due diligence."

Commissioners will hold at least two public meetings to discuss the idea of selling bonds, with the first coming Jan. 14. A decision is hoped to be reached Jan. 28, Finch said.

Commissioner Greg Partch said the commissioners want to hear from the public before making a decision.

"We are going to take the next few weeks to hear comments," Partch said. "We really want to make this as open as possible."

DeVoe said Hawkins hopes to begin construction as early as the beginning of summer.

"The county needs to get comfortable that they want to do this and if they do we need to get moving forward with this," DeVoe said. "It's our intention to get this shopping center built as soon as possible."

Finch said the project still hinges on Hawkins signing a lease with Lowe's as an anchor tenant for the shopping center and obtaining the water rights it is seeking, which are being held up in an appeals process.

In March, Hawkins applied for the rights to transfer 120 acre feet, or 40 million gallons, of water to its proposed development in addition to exchanging 100 acre feet of a 391-acre-feet water right to Colton for 23 acre feet of water.

The Whitman County Water Conservancy Board approved the transfers in July, but the Washington State Department of Ecology reversed its decision to approve the transfer that involved a surface-water diversion from the South Fork of the Palouse River. Ecology approved the other transfers.

Hawkins and the city of Moscow filed separate appeals with Washington's Pollution Control Hearings Board in November following the Department of Ecology's decision. Hawkins appealed the denial of the surface-water diversion from the South Fork of the Palouse River, while Moscow appealed the three approved transfers.

In its appeal, Moscow cited that each water right is located in two different bodies of public groundwater and the transfers would impair existing water rights, not be in the public's interest and would improperly modify the manner of the rights' intended use. The appeal also cited Ecology's failure to conduct an analysis of the average amount of water use from the rights over the past five years.

Hearings for the appeals are set to begin in March.

Moscow Public Works Director Les McDonald said Moscow is not opposed to growth, but it is concerned about conserving limited water resources.

"The city's interest really still is the water interest," McDonald said during the meeting. "Whitman County, Latah County and all the players share the same water resources.

"I don't think anyone in the city of Moscow begrudges Whitman County for trying to grow."

McDonald also said Moscow was open to seeking mediation in resolving the water-rights issues.

"The intent of that is to try to sit down and work through some of the issues," McDonald said.

DeVoe said he was unable to comment specifically on water rights because of the pending litigation.

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