Spokane Journal of Business

Rathdrum project scuttled

Developer drops plans, says city refuses to give sewer service to subdivision

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A Tucson, Ariz., developer has abandoned plans to create a 419-lot residential subdivision near Rathdrum, saying Kootenai Countys lack of a regional sewer plan made his project unworkable.


The developer, Bing Sherwood, of Tucson-based Finger Rock Realty LLC, last fall announced plans to develop the residential project, called Lost Creek, on 260 acres outside of Rathdrums city limits. Sherwood now says, however, that he has cancelled an agreement to buy the land the development would occupy.


We did not close, and were not going to, he says of the agreement to buy the property from Idaho Forest Industries Inc. for $950,000. An Idaho Forest Industries official says Sherwood has until March to finalize the deal.


Sherwood says opposition to his request to hook up to Rathdrums sewer systemwhich he sought to do rather than to build a wastewater treatment facility to serve his development alonemade him decide to drop his plans for the project.


It became obvious that what we wanted to do was not going to find favor with the powers that be up there, he said recently from his Tucson office.


Those powers that be are shortsighted, he believes.


The idea of doing little sewage treatment plant projects is a stupid idea in the long term, Sherwood says. In the long term they have to have a regional sewer plant, in my opinion. All other growth areas eventually establish a regional plant.


Bob Lloyd, Rathdrums public works director, says the bottom line from the city of Rathdrums perspective is that Lost Creek is outside the city limits. Even if Rathdrum agreed to Sherwoods wishes, We would then own a sewage collection system (under) somebody elses roads, he says. Moreover, Rathdrum wouldnt have the leverage of shutting off customers utilities for non-payment of sewer bills, as it does within its city limits.


Youd take on something you have no control over, Lloyd says. It just wouldnt work.


Knew from the beginning


Sherwood says he knew when he applied to Kootenai County for approval to develop his project that Lost Creek typically wouldnt have been eligible to hook up to Rathdrums sewer system. Lost Creek was to have been built near, but not within, Rathdrums city limits, and under the citys current regulations, only developments within the city limits have access to the citys sewer system.


Lost Creek, however, would have fallen within Rathdrums area of impact, meaning the city officially believes the land eventually will be absorbed into its city limits. It is fair to anticipate that at some time in the future this project may be annexed into the city of Rathdrum, Sherwood wrote in an October letter to the Rathdrum City Council proposing his plan.


Without access to Rathdrums sewer system, Sherwood would have had to build his own wastewater treatment system.


Instead, he had hoped to strike a deal under which he would have paid to upgrade Rathdrums sewer system to handle the capacity generated by the Lost Creek developmentand also would have paid for all infrastructure improvements necessary to connect the houses at Lost Creek to Rathdrums sewer system.


In addition to those investments in its sewer system, Rathdrum also would have received a total of about $1 million in sewer-hookup fees from the development and an additional $6,000 a month in sewer-service revenues, Sherwood said in the October letter.


This whole event will enrich the city of Rathdrum with no investment required from the city, he said.


Sherwoods plan found favor with Idahos Division of Environmental Quality (DEQ).


Given a choice of three options for handling Lost Creeks wastewater, DEQ liked the Rathdrum-sewer option the best, a DEQ engineer wrote in a September letter to Inland Northwest Consultants, a Post Falls planning firm that Sherwood had retained.


DEQ is in most support of this option because it provides for sewering of new development by an established municipal treatment system and appears consistent with a goal of the county comprehensive plan, the letter said.


Post Falls opposed Sherwoods plan, however, because Rathdrums wastewater flows to a treatment plant there and is treated for Rathdrum under contract.


In November, Rathdrums public works department told Sherwood that it also wouldnt go along with his plan, citing the citys intergovernmental agreement with Post Falls for sewer treatment, plus the fact that allowing Sherwood to hook up to Rathdrums sewer system would set a precedent for other developments, which could end up overwhelming Rathdrums system.


Proposal too soon


In making the decision to drop plans for Lost Creek, Sherwood says he believes his proposal was just too soon.


I think that eventually everybodys going to figure out that you cant keep dumping effluent into the Spokane River, he says. Sooner or later theres going to be a regional sewage treatment plant on the Rathdrum Prairie.


Wastewater treatment and planning and funding for future regional wastewater facilities are two of the original goals of the Rathdrum Prairie Planning Project, an ongoing public-private effort to address growth issues there.


Lloyd says a study done several years ago came to the conclusion that the cost of building a regional sewage-treatment plant on the Rathdrum Prairie would be overwhelming, based on the price of acquiring land for and building such a facility, plus the price of redirecting existing sewer lines there. Whether that will hold true five or 10 years from now is an unanswered question, he says.


Nevertheless, Sherwood, who is moving to North Idaho, says he still intends to pursue development projects here.

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