Pasco council OKs land buy for proposed aquatics center

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldDecember 4, 2012 

Pasco will pay $2.8 million for more than 28 acres of land near Interstate 182 as a possible site for a proposed regional aquatics center.

The Pasco City Council approved the land purchase Monday night. City officials will offer the alternative site, just west of the Broadmoor Park Outlet Mall off Sandifur Parkway, as a home for a proposed $35 million aquatics facility to the Regional Public Facilities Board at the board's meeting next week.

The land deal still has to go through months of review such as environmental inspections and surveying, before the sale is finished. Council member Tom Larsen, the lone dissenting vote on the purchase, voiced concerns about possible toxins at the site, and Tri-City voters will have the final say on whether the project gets the green light.

But Mayor Matt Watkins and other council members said the land purchase is a critical step in demonstrating the city's commitment to the project.

"I think this is a win-win for Pasco if the citizens of the three cities approve it," said council member Al Yenney.

The aquatics center, proposed to be built at a repurposed TRAC, was the first choice of four projects considered by the regional board this past year. It would be paid for by a sales tax increase likely to go on the November 2013 ballot. Tentative plans call for a 35,000-square-foot indoor facility and between 60,000 to 70,000 square feet worth of outdoor swimming facilities.

But Franklin County commissioners pulled back on providing the property, leaving the project without a site.

City officials and the Pasco Public Facilities District found the alternative site, which is being sold as part of the liquidation of a life insurance company. The property is larger than the estimated 10 acres needed for the proposed aquatics center. Stan Strebel, deputy city manager, said the size of the parcel would provide flexibility in siting the project.

Larsen said he was concerned about toxins at the site, possibly airborne, and said any review of the property needs to be thorough.

Strebel and City Manager Gary Crutchfield said there wasn't any indication there are problems with the property and an environmental review is part of the city's due diligence.

"We'll be doing more than a casual inspection," Strebel said.

Council member Saul Martinez said purchasing the site and building the aquatics center would be a step toward prosperity for Pasco and a valuable asset. Watkins highlighted the value in purchasing such a large piece of property with frontage on an interstate highway.

"This is a significant step for Pasco," he said.

But before the project can be put before voters, it has to get approval from the regional board. It could hit a snag there as city officials have said they wouldn't be able to backfill any operating costs for the aquatics center if it was built at a site other than TRAC. That could affect the total cost of the project and whether the regional board still wants to go forward.

But even if the regional board isn't willing to build the aquatic center at the alternative site, the city shouldn't be left hanging. Strebel said the city has about three months to cancel the sale before it would pay any penalty.

Also Monday:

-- The council approved its 2013 operating and capital projects budgets. Larsen voted against approving both budgets, while council member Bob Hoffman voted against the operating budget, saying he did not think the city needed to hire another code enforcement officer, as called for in the budget.

"We only have so many dollars to spread," he said.

Council member Rebecca Francik said she understood Hoffman's concern about the budget being tight but said the additional code enforcement officer was something requested by the citizens.

Crutchfield said surveys of citizens on their satisfaction at city services indicated dissatisfaction with code enforcement, meaning it needed to be addressed.

"Anything short of adding another position is nibbling at the edges," Crutchfield said.

-- Yenney raised concerns about the proposed number of coal trains that could be moving through the area, as detailed in a report published in Sunday's Tri-City Herald. The number of at-grade crossings in the city with current train traffic already creates bottlenecks, and more trains will only make the problem worse, he said.

"It's a major, major concern for Pasco," he said.

-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402;

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