From today's Lewiston Tribune:
MOSCOW - Members of the Moscow City Council voted 5-1 late Monday night to provide water and sewer services across the state line to the proposed Hawkins Companies shopping center.
Members also agreed to drop the city's appeal against Hawkins' attempts to secure its own water rights to drill wells.
The action, taken shortly before midnight, stems from an agreement hammered out last week during 22 hours of closed-door mediation in Spokane. The agreement calls for the city to provide a total of 65 acre-feet of water annually to the development in Whitman County.
Mayor Nancy Chaney, who initiated and signed the earlier appeals, said after the vote that she would have given thumbs-down to the agreement if a tie had resulted between the six councilors. [Like that was going to happen - tf] But councilors Bill Lambert, John Weber, Wayne Krauss, Walter Steed and Dan Carscallen approved the measure, while Councilor Tom Lamar voted against it.
The entire council took a verbal lashing from several citizens who voiced their displeasure with the behind-doors negotiations that led to an agreement that they feared could change the area economy and threaten groundwater resources.
"By conducting our business in secret, you are taking away our government," said Bill French of Moscow, a self-described water watchdog on the Palouse. "And far beyond whatever you're poised to decide about our water resources, the damage to our government by this action I think is the real issue."
Betsy Dickow of Moscow echoed those sentiments. "I'm disappointed that the council would agree to consider something in confidentiality. I'm concerned that the city is willing to do things in secret. It concerns me greatly and I don't think it brings the confidence of the populace."
Steed responded that the confidentiality and secret nature of the mediation process was thrust upon the city. "We didn't ask for it," he said, explaining that he and other newly elected council members inherited an existing legal action. "We didn't start it. We didn't have anything to do with it. But we were handed it as new council members."
The water appeals came last year after members of the old city council and Chaney met in executive session. No vote was taken in the session, but Chaney came out of it with enough approval, apparently, to exercise her executive authority to file the appeals.
"The objective was not secrecy," Chaney told the Lewiston Tribune after the meeting. "I don't think there was any effort by any of the council members previous or present to keep the public in the dark." [Riiiight - tf]
By law, the council can meet in executive session to discuss legal matters. Whether city-initiated legal actions can or should stem from those talks, especially with no prior public discussion, seems to be the area of concern for citizens.
"We sought legal advice in this and it was advised to handle it in this manner," Chaney said. "It was not any effort to usurp the public process."
Chaney reiterated that the appeals were filed because of concerns for groundwater, not to stop economic development.
But Whitman County officials have said Moscow's leap into the legal arena across a state line had the potential effect of stopping retail development in the Moscow-Pullman corridor. The Whitman County commissioners earlier Monday, in fact, agreed to issue bonds in the amount of $9.1 million to help Hawkins get infrastructure, including water and sewer services, to the construction site.
"It's like voting for something and holding your nose while you're doing it," Lambert said. "That's what I'm doing here in this process. At least we're getting some type of control factor out of this." He warned that if Hawkins continued to move ahead and drill its own well, Moscow would have no control whatsoever. "At least we've got the right to determine how much water we can give them."
According to the agreement, Moscow will provide 45 acre-feet of water annually to the 14,000-square-foot shopping center for indoor use.
Another 20 acre-feet annually will be provided for irrigation. In addition, the agreement allows for 2,500 to 3,000 gallons per minute to be available for fire protection. Hawkins would become a water utility customer of the city.
The agreement also allows for Hawkins to receive sanitary sewer treatment service from Moscow. Water and sewer rates for the shopping center, according to the agreement, will be made according to the city's regular fee schedule.
The agreement also bars the city from protesting or appealing any construction permits sought by Hawkins for the project. Hawkins, according to the agreement, will not challenge the city's plans to drill a new well near the shopping center site.
Lamar said he could not, in good conscience, vote in favor of the agreement. In addition to groundwater concerns, Lamar has maintained since being appointed to the council last year that he's against retail development in the corridor. He wants the eight-mile stretch to remain a transportation corridor only between the two university communities.
"I'm concerned about this proposal and I don't see clearly that this will benefit the residents of Moscow," Lamar said. "It makes me uncomfortable to not even be able to discuss the details of it with the public before making a decision."
While concerns continue to be voiced on the Idaho side of the border, officials in Whitman County keep touting the Hawkins shopping center as the beginning of retail development throughout the corridor that will provide shopping for consumers and tax dollars for government.
Hawkins spokespeople have said they plan to begin construction this year. The proposal calls for a Lowe's home improvement center to anchor the development, with room for at least two additional big-box stores.