Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Hawkins to ask county for help; Company officials will meet with commissioners Monday seeking extension of infrastructure to proposed development

More from today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Hawkins Companies officials on Monday are expected to ask Whitman County commissioners to extend public infrastructure to the site of its proposed 700,000-square-foot shopping development on the Pullman-Moscow Highway, just west of the Idaho state line.

Commissioners will meet with officials from the Boise-based company at 2:30 p.m. in the commissioners' chambers in the Whitman County Courthouse. The meeting is open to the public.

Commissioner Michael Largent said Hawkins representatives likely will ask for infrastructure investments in roads, sewer and water to make its development possible.

Largent said he is unsure of the cost associated with Hawkins' exact requests, but he suspects the price tag for the project will be considerable.

"One can reasonably be sure it will be in some millions - it's a fairly big deal," Largent said. "It's almost like another municipality in the county."

Whitman County would have several options for paying for the new infrastructure if approved, including bonding, using .09 sales-tax dollar allotment - money provided by the state and awarded by the county to assist rural communities with economic development - and by seeking grants.

Largent said the county most likely would have to pursue bonding to pay for at least a portion of the project. The bond would be paid back through property and sales taxes generated by the development.

"Whitman County isn't rolling in the money and it will probably need some type of bonding," Largent said.

One option that could potentially decrease the cost of the project would be working with Moscow to extend its services to the development, but that is a long shot unless Moscow changes its stance about the development.

"Right now it is my understanding Moscow has made it abundantly clear they don't like what Hawkins is doing," Largent said. "Whitman County and Moscow have a different perspective on economic growth, but we are no less concerned about our natural resources."

Largent is optimistic Whitman County and Moscow can work together in the future after three new members were elected to the Moscow City Council in November.

"At this point in time I am frankly looking forward to the opportunity for cooperation across the border," Largent said. "I think there are opportunities for cooperation."

City Council President Bill Lambert said he would be open to working with Whitman County and Hawkins if they get to the point where they are ready to move forward with the development.

"It's all about what-ifs," Lambert said. "If they get all this stuff done I think we need to take a look at what they propose to us. If they develop out there I think we should keep our eyes open and there's a possibility we could sell them some services.

"I don't think we should close the door."

Moscow Mayor Nancy Chaney said the city likely will send a representative to Monday's meeting and will be paying close attention to the situation.

"I think it is important that we are kept informed in this," she said.

Largent said Monday's meeting will be the first of many to come. A second meeting could be scheduled for as early as Jan. 14. The commissioners want to ensure they weigh public input on the issue and consider the risks and rewards of the project before moving forward.

"We can't afford to risk public money without a reasonable return to the public," Largent said. "We are not in the business of investing for a private company, but we are in the business of investing in the long-term interests of the county."

Commissioner Greg Partch said the Pullman-Moscow corridor could see a lot of new growth, but much of it will hinge on whether the Hawkins development gets off the ground. If it does, the corridor could be a great location for future growth within the county.

"Hawkins obviously is the big one," Partch said. "You have to provide for your own future, and development in the corridor is key to the future."

Largent agreed that the development would open the doors to more growth.

"Usually economic growth breeds economic growth," Largent said. "Just the jobs ... this one project would give Whitman County would be huge."

Both commissioners expressed their initial support for the development.

"One would think the commissioners would not interfere," Largent said. "But the twist here is the asking for public money. This is major money."

Hawkins must still clear several hurdles before any construction could begin.

"One can say they are proceeding with plans, but whether they proceed further depends on several things," Largent said. "They haven't pull the plug, and that's a good sign."

Atop Hawkins' list is securing water rights. In March, the company 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.

No comments: