Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, January 18, 2008

"Moscow looks to cork mall's water supply; Mall opponents fear shopping center could drain aquifer"

I had the chance to meet David Johnson of the Lewiston Tribune last Monday. He is a journalist, not a reporter. His stories go beyond the fluff pieces we usually read around here, cut away the BS, and get to the facts.

Heres David's latest story from today's Lewiston Tribune:
MOSCOW - The proposed Hawkins Companies shopping center has been characterized by opponents as a potential siphon threatening the Palouse groundwater supply.

But officials here Thursday said shopping malls, in general, are water misers when compared to other developments, such as housing projects.

"They (retail malls) don't use much water," said David Richardson, utility operations supervisor for Moscow. "As a rule, there's not a lot of consumption in those stores."

That assessment was confirmed by Shelley Bennett, co-owner of the Eastside Marketplace mall here. "They use astronomically less water," Bennett said.

The Palouse Empire Mall, for example, has one public restroom. And while the various restaurants and some of the stores within the mall have kitchens and individual restrooms, water consumption is minimal when compared to a similar number of homes, Bennett said .

Nonetheless, the city of Moscow has appealed Hawkins' attempts to secure water rights for the 700,000-square-foot mall. Critics say Moscow is using the water issue as a legal lever to stop large-scale retail development within its city limits and across the border in the Moscow-Pullman corridor.

Hawkins, after failing to gain approval to locate in Moscow a few years ago, is attempting to build just across the state line in Whitman County. Officials there have welcomed the development and chastised Moscow.

Whitman County Commissioner Jerry Finch said Moscow officials not only refused to provide sewer and water hookups to the Hawkins site, but also poked their legal noses into Washington to file appeals against a transfer of water rights that would enable Hawkins to drill its own wells.

Bennett, a real estate broker, said Moscow continues to miss out on opportunity. "I don't know why the city of Moscow isn't selling them (Hawkins) utilities," she said. Moscow's sewer and water infrastructure abut the site of the proposed mall.

Finch blamed Moscow Mayor Nancy Chaney for not just refusing to be part of the Hawkins development, but also apparently trying to keep it from occurring.

Chaney said she appealed the transfer of water rights to Hawkins to ensure the region's water supply isn't mined beyond what's already happening.

Experts have said the underground aquifer for Moscow has been dropping about 1.5 feet annually. But researchers have, for the most part, stopped short of declaring a water crisis in favor of saying a water management challenge is at hand.

Finch and the two other Whitman County commissioners, Greg Partch and Michael Largent, will hold a second public comment meeting Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. at the Whitman County Courthouse. The meeting stems from Hawkins' recent request for the county to issue $10.5 million in bonds to pay for infrastructure, including water and sewer services, for the shopping center.

Finch, who has worked with Hawkins for about three years on the proposed mall, said the company can no longer afford to foot the entire bill because, in part, Moscow has stymied progress on the project.

Five members of the Moscow city council, however, confirmed they are willing to renew talks with Hawkins. And company spokesman Greg De Voe said Hawkins has always been willing to talk with Moscow. It remains unclear, however, who might make the first step toward such talks, especially with the water rights appeal hearings still scheduled for March.

Partch suggested last week that Moscow dropping its appeals might be the first step toward improved relations and shared economic prosperity.

1 comment:

Mr. C. said...


I agree with you about your assessment of David Johnson.

He is a journalist. You can actually recognize your views and statements in what he writes.

That's a rare thing up in these parts of Idaho.