Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, May 09, 2008

"Eye utility district: Moscow cannot supply water directly to Hawkins"

Looks like Whitman County is getting into the water business. Good. Now everyone can't scream that Moscow is selling water directly to Hawkins as part of some under the table sweetheart deal.

In any case, Hawkins is wisely going to dig a well just in case things with Moscow or IDWR don't work out down the road.

From yesterday's Whitman County Gazette:
Whitman County will have to enter into a formal agreement with Moscow if the city is indeed going to provide water service to Hawkins’ companies’ stateline strip mall.

Commissioners Monday agreed to do just that after receiving a letter from Moscow’s City Supervisor Gary Riedner stating the Idaho Department of Water Resources would not allow the city to sell its water to an out-of-state private business.

Commissioners signed a letter stating they intend to work with Moscow to act as the public entity that would accept the city’s water as an intermediary for Hawkins.

Commissioner Michael Largent said he was still uncertain if the county would simply receive a water bill and pass that cost on to Hawkins or if a utility district would need to be formed.

If the county and city can reach an agreement that suits the Idaho water authority, Moscow will provide up to 45 acre-feet of water for use inside the stores in Hawkins’ 714,000 square-foot development.

Cross-border cooperation is a new approach for commissioners, who were previously angered by Moscow’s appeals of the shopping center.

Moscow’s council filed appeals at several stages of the development’s permit process, and those appeals angered commissioners to the point that Commissioner Jerry Finch told the Gazette last year that “hell will freeze over” before he cooperates with the city on future projects.

Finch’s tune has changed since then.

Moscow voters last fall elected a slate of pro-business candidates to replace the council that had filed appeals over Hawkins’ use of water and pollution controls.

Finch Monday said he does not foresee any tension in these negotiations, crediting Moscow voters for “changing the tenor” of the city council.

“We do have to work all our issues out,” said Finch.

“But the new council is certainly amiable enough. And you know that I’m an easy-going teddy bear,” he said with a wink.

Largent was appreciative of the new council’s decision to drop those appeals and to sell the city’s water to Hawkins.

“I want to note that we very much appreciate the compromise from the new council across the border,” said Largent.

Earlier this year, Moscow decided to drop its appeal of Hawkins’ quest for four water rights. That appeal was dropped as the two parties reached a settlement in which Moscow would pipe water to the site if the company dropped its applications for the water rights.

The agreement was reached during a mediation with the state Department of Ecology.

Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations to purchase water from Moscow, Hawkins is planning to drill a well at the site this summer.

Public Works Director Mark Storey put out a call for bids on drilling the well today.

Under the agreement, the company retains a right to pull water from the ground until water service from Moscow begins.

The accord also ensured the town of Colton would have the right to draw 100 acre-feet of water from Union Flat Creek.

Finch added the well will provide insurance for the company in the event that Moscow decides to turn the spigot off in the future.

The company may also need the water while preparing the site for construction.

Hawkins spokesman Jeff DeVoe told the Gazette last month that excavation of the 700,000 square foot site will begin as soon as the soil dries out enough.

To administer the water swap, the county may have to form a utility district, said Finch. In a meeting with Port of Whitman commissioners Monday afternoon, he said the port would be the most appropriate agency to oversee such a district.

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