Residents, county officials mostly in favor of selling bonds to pay for public infrastructure at site of proposed development
Whitman County commissioners heard mostly positive comments from about 30 residents and county officials who gathered Monday to discuss whether the county should pay to provide public infrastructure at the site of a proposed development just across the border from Idaho.
Boise-based Hawkins Companies has asked the county to sell $10.5 million in bonds that would be used to pay for public infrastructure for Hawkins' proposed 700,000-square-foot shopping development in the Pullman-Moscow corridor.
Hawkins also has requested that the county enter into a public-private partnership in constructing public infrastructure - such as a new water system, roads, sidewalks, and a sewer system - for the site west of Moscow. 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 complete details of the proposed partnership have yet to be decided, but once the bonds are repaid the county would own the infrastructure and water rights Hawkins has been battling to secure. Hawkins would have to pay the county monthly utility fees for the services, in addition to property taxes.
Commissioners wanted to use the 30-minute meeting to give the public a chance to weigh in on the controversial development and the bonds required to provide the public infrastructure, even though the commissioners have the final say in the decision.
"All of us commissioners, knowing how big this issue is, have been really interested in hearing comments from people, both positive and negative," Commissioner Michael Largent said during the meeting. "The more we can hear from the people we represent the better."
Members of the Pullman-based group Businesses and Residents for Economic Opportunity used the meeting to show their support for the development.
April Coggins, BREO co-chairwoman and a Pullman businesswoman, said she welcomes the development and that a decision to approve the bonds would benefit the county for many years to come. It also would provide infrastructure for future developments that would follow Hawkins, she said.
"I am really excited about Hawkins (Companies) developing in the corridor ... if we approve this bond future generations will benefit."
BREO member Tom Forbes said the development would just be an extension of the shopping centers that already exist on the Idaho side of the border and would not cause clutter or too much traffic congestion, as some of the development's opponents have suggested.
"Many opponents of this - especially those in Moscow - are referring to this as the sprawl mall and nothing could be further from the truth," Forbes said. "It's reasonable growth and smart development and I am very much in support of it."
Forbes also expressed hope that a new City Council in Moscow will alter the city's approach to the development.
"It is our hope that we can once again work cooperatively with the city of Moscow to everyone's benefit versus the contentious relationship we've had for the last couple of years," he said.
Not all comments were favorable. Colfax resident Bob Schultz said he's not so sure about selling bonds to cover expenses that should be incurred by Hawkins rather than the county.
"It almost sounds like they got in over their head in a down market and they are asking the citizens of Whitman County to bail them out," Schultz said.
Commissioner Jerry Finch said in a "perfect world" Hawkins would pay for 100 percent of the costs, but because of unforeseen circumstances - like lengthy and costly appeals over water rights - the project's price tag has become much more than Hawkins anticipated.
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.
Hearings for the appeals are set to begin in March.
Finch said Hawkins officials have hinted they may ax the development if a deal between the company and the county can't be reached.
"They've made it very clear that they're either going to have us as a partner, or I think they're going to walk," he said.
The time to move forward and make a decision is fast approaching, Finch said.
"We are working on the concept that if we aren't going to step up and be involved maybe we aren't deserving of it," Finch said.
Representatives from Hawkins and Moscow did not attend the meeting.
A second public meeting is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Jan. 22 in the courthouse.
A final decision is expected to be reached Jan. 28.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
"Residents voice support for Hawkins proposal"
From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News: