Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, July 18, 2008

"Hawkins goes ahead with well drilling; Company wants to build shopping center; disputes over water may have delayed project"

There is a mistake in the article below from today's Lewiston Tribune. It was Commissioner Greg Partch that speculated in last Friday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News that the national and regional economy may have delayed Hawkins breaking ground, not Commissioner Michael Largent. In exclusive comments made to Palousitics last Monday, Commissioner Largent stated that:
Commissioner Greg Partch's comments in Friday's Moscow Pullman Daily News suggesting the national or regional economy may be to blame is simply his speculation. My personal speculation differs from Greg's in that I believe the regional economy remains strong for this project. However, national credit markets have posed additional requirements for Hawkins requiring them to get much further along with their tenant commitments than earlier anticipated before they can have their financing package in order to begin major construction.
From today's Trib:
MOSCOW - Crews with a well-drilling rig continued to work Thursday just over the border into Whitman County on Hawkins Companies property where a 714,000-square-foot shopping center has been proposed.

No information on whether water had been found was available. Jeff De Voe,spokesman for the Boise-based company, did not return a phone call from the Lewiston Tribune.

"I just learned they were drilling about an hour ago," Walter Steed, a Moscow city councilor, said late in the afternoon. "So certainly, I don't know what they've accomplished."

The drilling continues amid negotiations for the city of Moscow to provide municipal water to the Hawkins site. Moscow Mayor Nancy Chaney said talks are ongoing with Whitman County commissioners and the matter will go before the council Monday night.

Chaney said Whitman County commissioners had some questions about a draft joint-powers agreement proposed by the city. "The question revolves around, 'How much are you going to charge us?' " Chaney said.

The joint-powers agreement is apparently necessary before the Idaho Department of Water Resources will consider approving the transfer of groundwater across the border into Washington. The transfer, officials said, must be between two governmental entities, not between a government and a private company.

In the meantime, no signs of construction are apparent on the Hawkins acreage, other than a dirt road leading to, and landscaping around, the drilling site. Only the top of the drilling rig can be seen from the Moscow-Pullman Highway corridor.

The shopping complex, proponents say, will give the region a retail boost and signal the start of further retail development in the corridor. Opponents have said the complex - to be anchored by a Lowe's home improvement center and possibly two other big-box stores - represents unnecessary sprawl and a threat to the local groundwater supply.

Speculation also remains about why construction has been delayed. De Voe, earlier this year, said Hawkins planned to start moving earth around June 1. He declined comment two weeks ago about reasons for the delay, or whether work was imminent. Whitman County Commissioner Jerry Finch has blamed two years of delays on Moscow officials who challenged Hawkins' water rights. He also said two weeks ago that despite the company drilling for water, another construction season has essentially been lost.

Commissioner Michael Largent speculated the Hawkins construction delay had more to do with a nationwide economic downturn than water problems. De Voe three months ago said the state of the economy at that time would not figure in Hawkins plans. He also said the project would go forward even if Moscow failed to provide water.

Hawkins secured its own water rights for what the company is calling the "Stateline Project," only to have Chaney appeal to Washington state authorities. The appeals were dropped after new Moscow city councilors worked behind closed doors with Hawkins to create a plan to provide city water over the border.

Steed said the company wants to secure its own water source just in case the cross-border deal fails.

He said he's also encouraging everyone involved to expedite the negotiation process. "Let's get to the table."
Indeed, this item from the Moscow City Council's agenda for Monday seems to confirm that:
8. Request for Direction for Response to Whitman County Regarding Water Rates for Stateline Project - Gary J. Riedner

At the Public Works/Finance Committee held June 23rd transmittal of the Joint Powers Agreement between City of Moscow, Idaho and Whitman County, Washington For Purposes Of Providing Limited Water Services to the Stateline Project Draft Agreement was authorized. City Attorney Randy Fife sent the draft Joint Powers agreement on Thursday June 26. On July 2, Whitman County Commissioner Michael Largent sent the City Supervisor an email requesting clarification of Section 2, subheading C) "Cost of Service" which refers to class of customers and resulting rates that could be applied to the Hawkins development. The City Supervisor responded to Commissioner Largent's inquiry and outlined the fee resolution process in "setting reasonable rates and fees for City services" noting that the "current fee resolution does not contemplate the provision of water or sewer services to customers located in the
State of Washington." The City Supervisor also noted that he anticipates that the "City Council will adopt a reasonable rate for this service."

ACTION: Provide staff with direction pertaining to the response to Commissioner Largent's inquiry including the potential range of fees and propose a meeting schedule for negotiation of the Joint Powers Agreement between City of Moscow, Idaho and Whitman County, Washington For Purposes Of Providing Limited Water Services to the Stateline Project Draft Agreement or other such action as deemed appropriate.

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