From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
The city of Moscow has changed its stance on a proposed development in Whitman County.
The City Council voted 5-1 Monday to sell water to Hawkins Companies for use at its proposed 700,000-square-foot retail development, which would be situated just across the state line in the Pullman-Moscow corridor.
The city also agreed to drop its appeal of a water rights transfer by Hawkins.
A settlement agreement between the entities was developed during two days of mediation between Moscow, Hawkins, the Washington State Department of Ecology and the city of Colton last week in Spokane.
The council had to vote on the settlement without disclosing its content to the public because of a confidentiality requirement of the mediation.
Councilmen Walter Steed and Wayne Krauss, Mayor Nancy Chaney and Public Works Director Les MacDonald attended the mediation. The full council discussed the settlement in a private session before Monday night's meeting.
Tom Lamar was the only council member to vote against the agreement.
The agreement states that, pending permitting by the Idaho Department of Water Resources, Moscow will provide up to 45 acre-feet of drinkable water per year and up to 20 acre-feet of irrigation water per year, unless Hawkins uses reclaimed water for irrigation. The city also will provide water for fire protection for the development.
The city also is offering Hawkins sewer treatment services. Hawkins has 90 days to decide whether to accept the services and must build a sewage treatment facility on its property if it does not accept the deal with Moscow. Hawkins has estimated it will cost $2 million to build a sewage treatment plant at the site.
If Moscow develops a reclaimed water supply for irrigation, Hawkins can negotiate a deal to use it. Steed said the 20 acre-feet designated for irrigation will be removed from the deal if Hawkins uses reclaimed water, whether from Moscow or its own treatment plant.
The city will charge Hawkins rates that are "fair and reasonable and consistent with rates and charges set for similarly situated customers of the city," the agreement states.
According to the agreement, Hawkins is responsible for the capital costs of extending water utilities from the city to the development. Whitman County has agreed to sell bonds to pay for public infrastructure at the site.
Moscow will withdraw the appeals of three Hawkins water rights that it filed with the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board.
Hawkins will withdraw its appeal of one water right, an annual 63-acre-feet draw from the Wanapum aquifer, that was rejected by the board.
Colton will get 100 acre-feet of annual water rights it negotiated in a deal with Hawkins.
Hawkins will have the right to exercise two of its water rights until city water service begins, at which time Hawkins will relinquish its rights and retire them permanently.
Krauss said he went into the mediation knowing the final decision would make some people unhappy, but it had to be reached.
"This a real case of being caught between a rock and hard spot when you do something like this and you make a decision," he said.
Steed said the agreement provides revenue for Moscow and causes no net increase in withdrawals from the Grand Ronde aquifer.
He said Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee officials believe the agreement will create a net decrease in water usage compared to the usage that could happen if Hawkins had all its water rights approved and Moscow lost its appeal.
"We believe there are benefits to the city of Moscow and its citizens in the agreement," Steed said.
Lamar said he voted against the proposal because he doesn't see a clear benefit for Moscow and its residents. [Waaahhhh. Get used to being the single "No" vote Lamar - tf]
"Personally, I'm concerned with the details and the precedent that may be set with decisions if we are to accept this," he said.
He said he doesn't think the city should sell water rights across the state line because Moscow has no ability to annex or tax the development. The development also could have negative ramifications for Moscow businesses.
"Once we decide to sell water to Hawkins, it's no longer just the water issue, it's the city of Moscow helping to make that development happen," he said.
Chaney said she would have voted against the agreement if given the chance. [Of course she would have. Luckily Mayor Moonbat has become Mayor Irrelevant - tf]
She said the agreement saves Hawkins money, which will expedite additional development in the corridor that will draw even more water from a declining aquifer.
"I'm not comfortable that we have all the information in hand yet," she said.
Several Moscow residents who spoke before the vote on the agreement said they were upset with the confidentiality.
"The people here are concerned (about water issues). They are interested," Moscow resident David Pierce said. "The fact that you are willing, it appears, to approve a mitigation and a compromise on this thing without involving the people of the area I think is a great travesty to the people of this area."
Several people also were concerned that the council is jeopardizing the future of Moscow's water resources by agreeing to extend services to Hawkins.
"I also am concerned that the city is willing to mortgage our children's future and put their water rights at risk and destroying possibly two existing wells and our downtown in order to put money in other people's pockets," Moscow resident Betsy Dickow said.
Moscow resident David Hall said selling water to Hawkins causes Moscow to lose its credibility as a city concerned about water.
"Moscow needs to do a full water budget before it can even consider providing water to outside entities," Hall said.
Many council members said they were uncomfortable about not being able to discuss the agreement before the vote.
Steed said confidentiality "was placed upon us. We didn't ask for it. We didn't particularly want to do it that way."
Lamar said Moscow residents will have the chance to share their opinions about the agreement during the Idaho Department of Water Resources permitting process, which will be conducted by the state.
Lambert said Moscow's representatives at the mediation could have just walked away, but it would have left the city with no control over how Hawkins uses its water rights.
"This issue is not a cut-and-dried issue where we've got the right to stop what they're doing over there, and everybody in this town needs to understand that," Lambert said. "At least we've got the right to determine how much water we can give them."
Whitman County Commissioner Jerry Finch said Moscow's decision takes "a big impediment off the process."
"I think it is a win-win for both the county and the city of Moscow," Finch said. "We've come a long way. Six months ago I would have never thought they would sell Hawkins water."