Developer: Irrigation woes delayed W. Richland project

WEST RICHLAND -- A Spokane-based developer has begun building 118 apartments in West Richland after having to dig out of a financial quagmire because of too many expenses and too much ground water.

MV Investments' proposed $9 million project north of Arena Road and west of Bombing Range Road got bogged down because an old irrigation pond got in the way and constructing a replacement pond for the Kennewick Irrigation District has cost more than expected.

The Goose Ridge Apartments project was $660,000 in the hole before even breaking ground, said Lowell McKee, a partner in MV Investments.

But after years of struggle, the project is finally moving and heavy equipment began leveling the 6.8-acre site this week.

What began in 2005 as a straightforward construction project including 12 two-story buildings and a clubhouse quickly ran aground because of an existing pond on the site.

MV Investments intended to build a replacement pond on the west side of its property, then transfer it to KID, which would not protest his filling in the old pond at the center of the site.

But by 2009 things changed. KID wanted a 144-acre-foot pond to replace the old 69-acre-foot pond and enough capacity for the district to deliver pressurized water to its customers to the north and to a new service area being formed along Bretz Road.

"The cost to us went from $350,000 to $660,000. I'm livid. We had their approval in 2005 and then they said it had to be bigger, all at our expense. They blackmailed us," McKee said.

"We had to get that property released so we could get financing for our multi-family project," he said.

"We had no say, everything was dictated to us," said McKee. He's frustrated that KID's changed pond requirements ran up the cost and that KID refused to sign over an easement to use the old pond site until a new pond was built.

KID officials say the new pond was sized to meet customer demand, which includes a new service area for properties on Bretz Road.

McKee said breaking ground for the apartments this week means units can be built and ready for occupancy this summer.

The development at Kennedy and Bombing Range roads has been planned by MV Investments for nearly a decade.

The investors built West Richland Plaza there in 2003, but then a major grocery chain that was to be the anchor tenant backed out. The 15,496-square-foot shopping plaza has stood vacant ever since.

McKee said when Hanford started adding jobs a few years ago the developer decided building the apartments might jump-start activity at West Richland Plaza and trigger some profits.

But MV Investments has faced more problems than satisfying KID's requirements for a bigger pond.

The old pond sits in the middle of the building site, where ground water is just a few feet below the surface. Jason McShane, KID's engineer on the pond project, said the ground water level there is about 4 feet below the surface.

That meant that when the new pond was built last year, a drain field had to be constructed underneath it. A pump in the drain field pulls water from underneath the pond to prevent floating the pond liner, McShane said.

Water from the drain field is pumped into the new pond, he said.

James Creer, who grows crops on land south of Arena Road and lives near the new pond, said area residents have long known the old KID pond was fed year-round by ground water.

"I've watched that pond since 1973. My kids used to fish it and skate on it in the winter," Creer said.

He said the replacement pond also sits in the middle of a natural drainage, so he's not surprised at the ground water issue there as well.

Now the possibility that ground water is a source for the KID pond could be a problem for both the developer and for KID if it is not part of a formal water right, said Joye Redfield-Wilder, spokeswoman for the state Department of Ecology.

If an excess of water and expenses isn't enough trouble, McKee said the pond delays caused him and his partner, Dick Vandervert, to miss the optimum moment to build the apartment units.

"Now we see there will be 1,600 job cuts at Hanford. Our plan was to build for resale, but with jobs being cut I don't know if we can," McKee said.

When completed, the apartment project will be the first in West Richland in 30 years and would generate about $20,000 a year in new property taxes.

McKee said the area where the old pond is located will be the last portion of the property to be developed.

"Only two of the buildings are involved with the pond site," he said. If necessary, a drain field also will be installed there, he said.

Bob Leedy, West Richland community development director, said the ground water problem "is a concern, but not a show stopper."

If excessive ground water becomes a problem during construction, Leedy said he will order everything to stop until a geotechnical review can determine the best solution.