And this certainly proves Moscow's water rights appeals have NOTHING to do with business, as the pro-business councilmen in Moscow realize the Hawkins development would be a good thing for Moscow as well as Whitman County.
From today's Lewiston Tribune:
MOSCOW - Politics here may have shifted enough after the November election to trigger talks about the city providing water and sewer services across the state line for the proposed Hawkins Co. shopping center.
A majority of Moscow city councilors, Whitman County commissioners and a spokesman for Hawkins told the Lewiston Tribune there's renewed potential for cooperation.
This despite Moscow's continued legal challenge of Hawkins' attempts to secure water rights to drill its own wells for the 700,000-square-foot shopping mall.
The situation comes as the first of two public comment meetings has been scheduled in Colfax on Monday. The county commissioners will take comments, beginning at 1:30 p.m., regarding Hawkins' recent request for Whitman County to float revenue bonds of more than $10 million to help fund infrastructure (including water and sewer) for the development.
A Whitman County pro-business citizens group, meanwhile, Friday endorsed the proposed bond issue and called on Moscow officials to drop their water rights appeal against Hawkins.
"It's clear Moscow's appeals are not about water but about keeping out particular kinds of businesses," April Coggins, spokeswoman for Businesses and Residents for Economic Opportunity wrote in a news release. "That attitude was rejected by Moscow voters in November and it is our hope that the new Moscow city council will see things differently and seek to cooperate with their neighbors."
Moscow's waterlines extend right up to the Hawkins property, and the sewage treatment plant is located nearby.
"Hawkins is always open to talking to the city of Moscow," said Jeff De Voe, project manager for the proposed shopping center. He declined further comment because of the pending legal appeal.
It remains unclear how much money Moscow might make (through fees) or Hawkins might save if the two entities can reach an agreement about water and sewer services. But City Attorney Randy Fife and Public Works Director Les McDonald confirmed that a hookup of services is both legal and technically possible.
Whitman County Commissioners Jerry Finch and Greg Partch, who continue to champion the Hawkins project as the beginning of retail development between here and Pullman, said it's time for Moscow to either join ranks or get out of the way.
"Moscow didn't say no, they said hell no," Finch said about the city's refusal to cooperate with development of the mall. "Before the election, it's pretty obvious the door had been slammed."
Three new Moscow councilors were elected in November and appear to have become part of a five-member, pro-business majority. The three, Walter Steed, Dan Carscallen and Wayne Krauss, along with council President Bill Lambert, all said they are willing to talk with Hawkins and Whitman County officials about water and sewer services. Councilor John Weber couldn't be reached for comment, but indicated in the past he favors cooperation.
Only Councilor Tom Lamar, who has gone on record opposing retail development in the corridor, balked at renewed talks. "I think the best way for Hawkins to tap into our sewer and water is to locate in Moscow," Lamar said.
Moscow Mayor Nancy Chaney, who's been accused of spearheading efforts to thwart the Hawkins project, said her intentions are rooted in environmental and groundwater concerns. That was confirmed by McDonald. "The mayor's driving concern," he said, "is the water resource that the whole region relies upon.
"Moscow has always been open to talking," said Chaney, adding that the table for such discussion has already been set through the water rights appeal. She said the city has proposed mediation as a means of settling the issue.
But Partch said talks, if they happen, shouldn't happen in a legal arena. Withdrawal of the appeal, he said, would be the best way for Moscow to show good faith. "That would be a huge gesture on their part," he said, "and we would certainly like to work with them."
The water rights appeal hearings are scheduled to begin in March.
"You can't build without water," Finch said, adding that many people think Chaney is simply using the water issue as the only legal lever available to stop retail development in the corridor. "She's the one who seems to be dead set against it."
A shopping center, said Finch and Partch, is not necessarily a big water consumer. But it would surely be a big revenue producer for the county.
According to county records, the undeveloped Hawkins acreage, which abuts the Moscow city limits and the Washington-Idaho state line, currently generates about $1,400 in annual tax revenue. If the mall is developed to full capacity, it could produce nearly $1.8 million in annual property and sales taxes for the county, De Voe told the commissioners when making his pitch for the $10 million in infrastructure bonds.
While Moscow couldn't directly tap into those tax dollars, councilors here said the city might be able to negotiate a fee for water and sewer services that translates into a profit.
"If it's going to happen and we can sell them something," Lambert said, "why not?"
"I'm very anxious to get together with entities across the border," said Krauss.
"I would be interested in talking about the possibility of extending services to Hawkins," Steed said.
"I think that I would," Carscallen said about talking. Whether Hawkins connects to Moscow or drills its own wells, he said, doesn't seem to make a lot of difference. "They're going to get it out of the same tub we're getting ours."
Researchers have said the underground aquifers on the Palouse have been steadily dropping. But, lacking data about just how much water is available, the same scientists have said a water management challenge is at hand, not a crisis.
Finch suggested its up to Moscow officials, since they've filed the appeal against Hawkins, to propose new talks. "If they send us a letter, I would find it more receptive," he said.
But Lambert said the catalyst for talks might have to come from elsewhere. "I don't see why it would hurt for these people to approach us. Somebody has to generate it, but it wouldn't be something generated by the council, per se."
Moscow City Supervisor Gary Riedner said the city might reach out. "I will do what we can to facilitate it at the mayor's direction."
"I know lots of people are talking about talking," Fife said.
De Voe, meanwhile, told Whitman County officials that his company wants to begin construction this summer. As proposed, the shopping complex would be anchored by a Lowe's home improvement center.