KID funds sought for new district

Owners of prime wine grape vineyard land on Red Mountain in West Richland are being asked to pony up about $1 million through an improvement district to finish paving the last mile of Antinori Road.

Jim Holmes, a Red Mountain property owner who is rounding up support, said he needs owners of at least half of the 2,615 acres that would be in the district to sign on to the effort.

Holmes approached the Kennewick Irrigation District board Monday, hoping that the agency would include its 289 acres on Red Mountain in the proposed road district.

But KID board members balked at being a major player that could force smaller property owners into paying approximately $26 an acre for 20 years to fund the project.

Antinori Road comes off Highway 224, climbs Red Mountain for about a mile before swinging northwest toward Sunset Road. But the last eight-tenths of a mile are in dirt.

Holmes said completing the paving would provide a complete loop through the vineyard landscape, taking tourists to the front door of several wineries in the Red Mountain American Viticultural Area, or AVA.

KID's reluctance to throw in with the other private landowners is not the only hurdle Holmes must overcome. The state Department of Natural Resources, which owns 835 acres on Red Mountain, also hasn't offered to join.

The two government agencies' acreage amounts to approximately 43 percent of the 2,615 acres that would be in the road improvement district.

Holmes said he has 648 acres of the remaining 1,491 privately owned acres signed. But he doubts he can obtain enough to meet the requirement of 50 percent, plus one acre, of the 2,615 acres -- unless Natural Resources or KID also come in.

"The board doesn't want to be in the position of forcing this. We don't want to alienate our neighbors out there," said Joetta Ruppert, KID's real estate manager.

KID's Realty Committee recommended KID support forming the district because having a paved loop road would benefit the entire AVA, Ruppert told the board.

The cost to KID, based on its acres in the district, would be $8,115 a year, or $162,294 over the 20-year life of the improvement district.

Board President John Jaksch said if KID joined, the annual cost should come out of the agency's reserves so as to not impose a burden on district ratepayers.

Ruppert said the road district costs would be recouped by having KID's property included in land leases or in the potential sales of the property.

KID directors John Pringle and Patrick McGuire said they would like KID to remain neutral by not joining the road district.

But Holmes said, "A neutral vote would be a no vote. You would not just be taking yourself out. I'd have to find enough votes to equal yours."

Holmes said after the meeting that completing the road would be a big plus for the landowners and would bring more tourism dollars to the county. He said several wineries, particularly those located on Sunset Drive, were ready to participate in forming the road district. He said they include Hedges Cellars, Kiona Vineyards, Fidelitas Wines and Tapteil Vineyard.

Jaksch decided to delay a decision on the issue until a future board meeting so Ruppert and Holmes could provide more information about the amount of support from within the proposed 2,615-acre road district.

w In other business Monday, the board learned that a state audit of KID finances for 2008 and an accountability audit for the two years ending Dec. 31, 2009, had no findings of fault. Jaksch congratulated district Treasurer Clark Haueter for there having two consecutive clean audits. "This is two years in a row, which is very different from the past," Jaksch told the Herald.