A Senate bill will help open land in south Kennewick for the creation of thousands of jobs, said Kennewick Mayor Steve Young.
Under the state Growth Management Act, counties have the authority to determine city limits and what land can be developed. Benton County makes these decisions every five years.
Senate Bill 5995 would allow Benton, Yakima and Spokane counties to apply at any time for the development of land for industrial purposes.
Once the bill passes, 800 acres of industrial land could be added to Kennewick, doubling the current amount, Young told the Herald.
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Each 100-acre plot, fitted with a manufacturing or distribution center, could create more than 500 jobs, he said.
Of course, Kennewick has to find companies interested in moving to town before promising results. At the bill's hearing this week, Young testified that Kennewick lost three opportunities with out-of-state companies because it could not provide developed land.
"We don't have anything to offer," Young later told the Herald.
Young gave the example of Infinia, a company that manufactures solar panels and other energy equipment, to demonstrate what opportunities Kennewick is losing out on.
As the Hanford site shrinks its operation to reflect decreased federal funding, the Tri-Cities has high-skilled workers available for companies such as Infinia. But Infinia has been moving its manufacturing operations to Salt Lake City, where more industrial land is available, he said.
April Putney, with Futurewise, a state interest group with the goal of protecting farms, forest and communities from poor growth management, spoke against the bill at the hearing.
She said requesting the county to change the rule would be faster and easier than asking the state to make the change. She said the county might have reasons for the five-year rule -- and reasons to deny Kennewick's request.
Leonard Bauer, managing director of the Washington Growth Management Services Department, helps in city-to-county negotiations on city limits. He testified that the process of evaluating whether land can be developed and how its development will affect the community strains the budgets of many counties.
Young told the Herald that several county officials have told him they support the bill because it would allow the county to amend its rules without a costly investigation -- freeing the county to review Kennewick's request. The mayors of Pasco, Richland and West Richland also support the bill, Young said.
The requested increase in industrial land is south of Interstate 82.
Its location near the interstate would entice companies that manufacture and distribute products, he said.
The land currently is used for dryland wheat farming.