Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Sunday, February 03, 2008

"Settlement could be near in Moscow-area water rights dispute"

From yesterday's Lewiston Tribune:
MOSCOW - A potential water rights settlement between the city of Moscow and Hawkins Companies appears possible by Monday, according to a city council agenda.

Councilor Wayne Krauss confirmed Friday the council will meet in executive session prior to Monday night's regular meeting to discuss the matter. A public discussion of the appeals, recent mediation and a potential settlement is scheduled as the last item on the council's agenda.

Both Krauss and Councilor Walter Steed said they would not comment on the potential settlement, after signing confidentiality documents earlier in the week at Spokane where the mediation session took place. Krauss, Steed, Mayor Nancy Chaney, Public Works Director Les McDonald and a water rights attorney joined others, including Hawkins representatives, at the session.

According to the council agenda, members are now ready to "discuss and take such action deemed appropriate including approval of settlement."

No public input has been taken on the appeals issue.

Hawkins wants to build a 700,000-square-foot retail shopping center just west of the state line in Whitman County. To do that, the company sought and secured from the Washington Department of Ecology the transfer of water rights to drill wells for the development.

But Moscow filed an appeal, signed by Chaney, with the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board. While hearings on the appeal are scheduled for later this spring, parties agreed to mediation last week.

To date, little of the issue has been discussed publicly. Chaney filed the appeal after meeting in executive session with members of last year's council. The mediation session was closed to the public. So the scheduled discussion at the end of Monday night's meeting will be the first time council members have addressed the matter in an open forum.

Moscow's appeal asserts, among other things, Hawkins secured water rights in two different groundwater locations and the transfers might be contrary to the legal intended use. The city of Colton had agreed to swap water rights with Hawkins, but that agreement stalled when the Moscow appeals were filed.

Chaney said the appeals stem from a concern for the region's groundwater. Critics, however, said the shopping center would use relatively little water and Moscow's action is really about slowing or stopping retail development in the Moscow-Pullman corridor.

The Whitman County commissioners, meanwhile, are poised to make a decision about a $10.5 million bond issue to build infrastructure, including water service, for the Hawkins development. Proponents said the cost to county taxpayers would be retrieved in sales and property taxes from the development. As proposed, the shopping center would be anchored by a Lowe's home improvement center and possibly other big-box retail stores.

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