Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

'Councilman says litigation could have proven costly for city; Krauss: Hawkins deal had to be made"

It's so refreshing to finally have a breath of sanity on the Moscow City Council and wathcing all the no-growth liberals squirm because there is not a damn thing they can do to stop this project now. Congrats to the Hawkins Companies for their resolve for putting an end to this nitwittery. I only wish Wal-Mart would act as aggressively.

And no, Gerard, water is not an issue for Whitman County, just the selfish efforts by you and other Moscow business people to hold Pullman and Whitman County back all these years.
Moscow City Councilman Wayne Krauss said a February mediation session in Spokane was the last chance to get Hawkins Companies at the negotiation table.

Krauss said at a forum Tuesday that the actions of company representatives during mediation led him to accept a controversial settlement agreement. The agreement includes a deal to sell water and possibly sewer services to the proposed retail development just west of Moscow in Whitman County.

"I was under the very strong impression that Hawkins was not going to talk about it any longer," he said.

Krauss spoke at the forum along with Tom Lamar, the sole council member to vote against the agreement, and local business owners Dennis Baird and Gerard Connelly. The forum was sponsored by the Moscow Civic Association, the Moscow Chamber of Commerce and the Palouse Water Conservation Network.

Krauss, who attended the mediation with Councilman Walter Steed and Mayor Nancy Chaney, said Hawkins representative Jeff DeVoe started packing his briefcase toward the end of the 22-hour meeting, indicating he was ready to make a deal or leave.

"When you see Jeff DeVoe and his attorney sit back in their chairs and cross their arms and they say (a section of the settlement) stays like it is, that's it, you pretty much understand where they're at," Krauss said.

He also said Peter Scott, an attorney hired by the city of Moscow who specializes in water issues, recommended taking the settlement to avoid costly litigation over the appeals that Moscow likely would have lost.

"We paid a lot of money for his recommendation, and I thought it was probably a good idea to do it," Krauss said.

In addition to the water and sewer sale, the settlement required Moscow to drop its appeals of two water rights approved for Hawkins by the Washington State Department of Ecology, and required Hawkins to drop an appeal of a right denied by the Department of Ecology. Hawkins will retire the water rights approved by Ecology as soon as it hooks up to Moscow's system.

Tri-State owner Connelly, who said the settlement deal is probably the best for Moscow in face of inevitable development, said the council could have tabled the settlement to allow public comment without returning to mediation.

He said it's good to get the best advice possible from lawyers, but the city can't let them dictate what to do.

In response to a question about why the decision to sell water seemed so rushed - the council voted to approve it at its first meeting after mediation - Krauss said he felt the next step would otherwise be costly litigation with Hawkins over the appeals.

Lamar disagreed.

"I thought we had all the time in the world," he said.

Lamar said the council was obligated to move quickly once it accepted the settlement, but it could have decided to spend more time thinking about it before voting.

Lamar said the decision to sell water was more significant than concerns about the appeals.

"It just seemed to me to be too big of a gift to switch," he said.

Tina Baldwin, a Viola resident who said she came to the forum because the development will draw from the same aquifer she does, said she was interested to learn that the City Council "was intimidated by lawyers."

"I guess the only one that voted with conscience and in the best interest for the business community and citizens was Tom Lamar," Baldwin said.

Moscow resident Jo Bohna said the forum increased her questions and concerns about the Hawkins deal.

Council members "were intimidated by big-city attorneys, panicked, and gave away our retail dollars to the state of Washington, along with 1 percent of our sewage processing capacity," Bohna said. [Have you noticed how contradictory all these moonbat's arguments are? If the Hawkins development will ultimately fail, as they predict, why all the "strong arm tactics" by Hawkins to push the deal through? Obviously, Hawkins sees a gold mine of untapped retail needs here, worth enough to but up with all this BS. - tf]

Palouse Water Conservation Network President Bill French said he still had questions after learning about the mediation process and influence of attorneys.

"If this is such a good deal for Moscow, why did all the high-powered attorneys from Hawkins let us get away with it?" he said. "They wouldn't have agreed to go with anything that would benefit them less than it benefits us."

The forum also included discussion of the possible effects the Hawkins development could have on Moscow business.

Baird, who owns the Wine Company of Moscow, said he is "deeply afraid" that Hawkins will cause some Moscow businesses to close. He also is not confident there is enough retail demand to support the Hawkins development.

He said he's concerned "that mall will survive just long enough to sink a whole lot of ships in Moscow and probably Pullman for that matter and then fail."

Lamar said he's worried that Hawkins will approach Moscow businesses and convince them to relocate to the development.

Connelly emphasized that retail shopping centers like the one proposed by Hawkins create economic displacement, not economic development.

"When Lowe's opens up, do you think people in Moscow are going to buy more lumber and more hardware?" Connelly asked. "They're not. [How about people from all over the region that curently go to Lewiston or Spokane to Home Depot? Connelly is too successful to be this dumb about business. It's got to be a put-on - tf]

"Having said all of that, I think that the council probably didn't have any good choices, because apparently water is not an issue for Whitman County."

Connelly said he preferred having Hawkins build right next to Moscow than in Pullman.

He said his father always told him "it's always best to be right next door to your competition."

Krauss asked audience members to raise their hands if they were concerned about the downtown business district "suffering tremendously" because of Hawkins.

Almost everyone raised their hands, and Krauss admonished them to stop being pessimistic. He said people have been worrying about downtown for decades, and downtown has survived.

He said that downtown businesses fill specialized niches. They might lose some price-shopping customers, but will keep others.

"Dennis, there's absolutely no way that anybody can put you out of business because of what you offer," he told Baird. "Yeah, they can beat your prices, but they can't beat you."

Editor's note: Wayne Krauss was referencing a conversation with another person who said small business owners should quit if they can't stand up to big business. The comment, included in Wednesday's edition of the Daily News and an earlier version of this story, was incorrectly attributed to Krauss due to a Daily News error.

No comments: