Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"Largent: County may want to tweak water-sale agreement"

One of Ronald Reagan's signature phrases was the old Russian proverb "doveriai, no proveriai", meaning "trust, but verify."

Hawkins and Whitman County are taking the correct approach with regards to Moscow's involvement in the Stateline Retail Center.

At least for the next two years, we can count on Moscow's full support of the project. But all it takes is one election to turn back the clock to the Cold War we had just a few months ago. So it is wise that Hawkins and Whitman County pursue a separate sewer system and look at ways at keeping the water rights Hawkins originally requested in case a future Moscow City Council decides to turn off the spigot.

From yesterday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Whitman County Commissioner Michael Largent said some changes might be in store for a negotiated water sale between the city of Moscow and Hawkins Companies.

The county became involved in the process following a request by the Idaho Department of Water Resources, which asked Moscow to reach an intergovernmental agreement with Whitman County for the water sale rather than deal directly with a private entity across state lines.

Moscow City Supervisor Gary Riedner updated the City Council's Administrative Committee on Monday about the city's water-sale application to the IDWR. The city has finalized a letter signed by Mayor Nancy Chaney and Largent informing IDWR that the city and county are negotiating an intergovernmental agreement for the water sale.

The water will serve Hawkins Companies' 714,000-square-foot shopping center, which will be located in the Pullman-Moscow corridor, just west of the Idaho border. The Boise-based company finalized its purchase of the land April 9. The city agreed in February to provide water services to the development in exchange for Hawkins retiring two water rights it had secured.

Largent said he thinks the city is doing the best it can to move the application forward. However, because Whitman County was not involved in the negotiation process, it may bring some new issues to the table.

"We'll have to look and talk about some issues that may not have been of import to (Moscow and Hawkins) but are important to Whitman County," he said.

The main issue that concerns Largent is the water rights Hawkins agreed to relinquish in the settlement agreement.

"My question, personally ... is I'm wondering whether those water rights wouldn't be better held in trust by another entity and not used," Largent said. "It's difficult to construct an agreement in perpetuity that is iron-clad."

Largent said the rights could be kept "in active reserve." They would not be used unless something happened that caused Moscow to stop providing water across the border.

Largent said the city and county haven't entered into negotiations about the intergovernmental agreement, but he thinks the process will go smoothly.

"Working with the city of Moscow recently has been a joy. I think they're well-meaning. I think they're bargaining in good faith," he said. "I anticipate it will be a fair and good-working relationship."

The city also gave Hawkins the option of purchasing sewer services. Hawkins spokesman Jeff DeVoe wrote a letter to the city May 5 declining sewer services. The letter did not specify why the company declined the services, and DeVoe could not immediately be reached for comment.

Riedner said he faxed the Moscow/Whitman County letter and IDWR application to Hawkins Companies for review today. The City Council will review any changes Hawkins requests at its Monday meeting, if Hawkins responds in time.

"I would imagine it's up to them how long it takes them to review it, but I would assume we're going to get it back fairly quickly," Riedner said.

The city will then send the application and letter to IDWR. Riedner said the city is committed to getting the application in as quickly as possible.

Whitman County also has been looking for ways to pay for the infrastructure that will connect Hawkins to the Moscow water system.

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