Cheney Free Press -

By PAUL DELANEY
Staff Reporter 

The Fairways continues to wage its water wars

One year after service is shut off, golf course battles rumors, city of Spokane in legal battle

 


One of the guiding idioms of World War II was, “Loose lips sink ships.”

It spoke to the danger of unguarded talk and what it could cost in terms of lives and the war effort.

Not sure if there’s anything similar in today’s lexicon, but how’s this: flapping gums could founder The Fairways?

In a recent meeting of the Medical Lake City Council, the claim was made in the public forum portion that “The Fairways would probably close because of that lawsuit on water.”

While that was news to Fairways general manager and head professional Kris Kallem, he was quick to point out, “I’m personally not worried about it at this point, and I know more about it than anyone else.”

It was just 364 days ago on May 23, 2017 that the city of Spokane turned off the water at the privately-owned golf course, thinking they had the easy answer to what has been a decades-old dispute over the rates it charged.

However, a ruling by Superior Court Judge Michael Price ended the shutoff June 6.

It came in the nick of time, Kallen said in a June 8 Cheney Free Press story. The course was nearing the point of the water shutoff causing “irreparable damage,” he said.

What has ensued has been a battle for the course’s survival. That’s combined with a legal counterattack that hopes to not only fairly settle the matter for The Fairways, but potentially tens of thousands of water rate payers on the fringes of the city limits of Spokane.

With water keeping the course green, and with green in the cash register, it has allowed a stiff legal challenge to be mounted.

The Fairways hired attorney Bob Dunn, the guy the city of Spokane hates to see on any court docket because he’s been very successful in many a case involving their City Hall.

The city of Spokane may be wishing they never awakened this potential giant from its sleep.

In the past year there have been two lawsuits filed against the city of Spokane.

One involves all the residents on the golf course and residents on the West Plains, plus Five Mile Prairie and some people on the upper South Hill in Spokane, plus others, who feel they are being unduly charged for water delivery.

The second is West Terrace Golf vs. city of Spokane.

“I’m a part of two of them and it’s been eye-opening to go through the whole legal process,” Kallem said. “It’s been fascinating but frustratingly slow.”

But that’s by design as Kallem contends. “That’s an intended strategy by cities, to stall and delay, push it out as far as possible and hope you run out of money to litigate it.”

That’s not going to happen he insists.

The course sits on solid legal ground, Kallem insists, due to a Spokane water conservation ordinance passed in early 2009 and included four city courses — Downriver, Esmeralda, Indian Canyon and The Creek at Qualchan — all of which use water from Spokane.

As per the new regs, by being good water stewards, The Fairways, which was purchased by developer Buster Heitman in 2007, would receive significant water rate reduction for its true lifeblood.

For six of 10 years between 2005 and 2014 the course met the goal of using less than 40 million gallons of water a year – yet the rate pogo-sticked all over. Ironically, Qualchan gulped down as much as 72.2 million gallons in 2007, yet got preferential rate treatment.

The fallout from the twisting of that water valve last May has been pretty significant, and something Kallem never figured would have such a lasting effect.

Kallem estimates the bad press — and of course the rumor mill — meant the loss of 1,500 rounds in 2017, “10s and 10s of thousands of dollars, which to a small business like us where margins are thin, it just puts further strain on everybody.”

Kallem never figured he would have dabbled in the law this much, but his voice almost reflects a certain joy at times.

Particularly when he discovers fun facts from a 2010 water rate study costing a mere $400,000.

“You know what they omitted from the study?” Kallem says incredulously. “Outside city rate payers,” contending those rates were historically correct and fair.

Might there be better things for the loose lips at the rumor mill to pay attention to?

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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