April 11, 2013 | Vol. 116 -- No. 51

Concerns of a more local nature

Cheney civic and business leaders discuss issues other than sequestration with Rep. McMorris Rodgers

On a visit to Cheney last Friday, 5th District Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers may not have had to listen to complaints about the impact of sequestration, but she certainly heard about a number of other concerns from local civic and business leaders assembled in the City Hall council chambers.

McMorris Rodgers told those at the quickly called public meeting that as she has toured the district during Congress’s spring break she has been hearing and learning a lot about the impacts of sequestration. When she asked if Cheney had experienced any of these, she received a room full of heads shaking “no.”

Later in the discussion when audience members took turns introducing themselves, McMorris Rodgers got a clearer indication about what is important to Cheney.

Mayor Tom Trulove thanked her for work on getting recent hydropower legislation passed. The bill that cleared the House with unanimous approval and heads to the Senate will help spur the development of small hydropower and conduit projects while directing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to study the feasibility of a streamlined two-year permitting process.

Trulove noted the Northwest has some of the lowest power rates in the nation, and that improvements to area dams efficiency could increase their ability to provide more power. McMorris Rodgers said such moves could “double hydropower in this country easily” but added she favors an “all of the above approach” to using sources such as coal, wind and solar power.

McMorris Rodgers said school districts in the north part of the district were feeling sequestration’s impacts through reductions in Buy America Grants, with a few being forced to repay some of the monies they had already received. When Cheney School Board president Suzanne Dolle introduced herself, McMorris Rodgers asked if Cheney was in the same predicament.

Dolle said no, but added reductions in the federal Qualified School Construction Bonds program would. In November 2010 the district accepted $17.5 million in “Q-Bonds” helping drive down interest on the $79 million in bonds voters approved earlier in the year.

“It’s wrong to change the contract mid-term,” McMorris Rodgers said.

Police Chief John Hensley asked that Congress not make cuts to the Cops Hiring Grant program. While Cheney has not had to use the program, Hensley said the city may need to do so in the future to obtain more officers.

Parks and Recreations Director Paul Simmons said the city had received a non-monetary grant from the National Parks Service to provide technical assistance in identifying recreational resources and needs outside of the city, especially around Turnbull Wildlife Refuge and southwest Spokane County. Cheney is working with area organizations and jurisdictions to develop those resources for better use by residents and visitors.

Cheney Federal Credit Union CEO JoAn Sanders said they have been hit with over 160 new federal regulations over the last couple of years.

“It’s tough for small financial institutions to keep up on,” Sanders said.

Councilwoman Jill Weiszmann and others expressed concerns about the Spokane Tribe of Indians’ STEP project, specifically a proposed casino, and potential negative impacts to Fairchild Air Force Base. McMorris Rodgers said they have expressed those concerns to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and had them included in a recent environmental impact statement on the project.

McMorris Rodgers also said a decision by the Air Force on the first location for its new fleet of KC-46A tankers was scheduled for May 1, and that Fairchild has a “great reputation” and is recognized for its community support. She added there were other factors, such as proximity to bases, which could send the selection to one of the other four finalists.

Finally, McMorris Rodgers noted both the House and Senate had based their versions of the federal budget. While there was no overall agreement, she said at least a “top line” number had been established, and felt good that a budget would get passed.

“It’s important to the economy,” she said. “You need certainty to make decisions.”

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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