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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of July 23 - 29, 2003


Water Center smells foul

Something smells in Boise and it’s not just last week’s produce rotting in record-breaking temperatures.

The smell is emanating from the state capitol and the new University of Idaho Water Center, a six-story classroom and office building in Boise now under construction.

Yet, despite the smell, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has rejected a request to investigate the matter. Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett and House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, both of Ketchum, made the request.

Wasden says he will wait for a report from an attorney that Stennett and Jaquet say is working for the state Board of Education, which supported the project. Wasden says he appointed the attorney to look in to the matter.

Wasden should not be satisfied with any once-over-lightly look at the project. On the contrary, he should pursue a vigorous investigation.

Idahoans deserve to know who’s accountable for the mess surrounding the Water Center.

The university has a big black eye and a hole in its pocketbook that—you guessed it—taxpayers will have to fill.

An investigation by Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey published June 29 found that the project will:

  • Cost taxpayers $139 million over 40 years;

  • Cost the state Department of Water Resources twice as much as it now pays for its current quarters for just 21 percent more space;

  • Leave the University of Idaho subsidizing the Idaho Department of Water Resources to the tune of $115,000 a year; and

  • Cost the University of Idaho $2.3 million more annually for bigger and better digs.

The Statesman also found that four powerful University of Idaho alumni: Kempthorne, his former chief of staff, Phil Reberger, U of I lawyer and lobbyist Roy Eiguren, and Speaker of the House Bruce Newcomb championed the project.

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s administration oversaw a competitive bidding process that was apparently rigged to ensure that the University of Idaho would win the bid to build the Water Center.

In a year in which the state barely balanced its books and dealt body blows to most state agencies budgets, the arrogance and money involved are bad enough. But rigging bids?

The political carnage from the questionable deals surrounding the project is piling up.

University of Idaho President Robert Hoover resigned over the project and University of Idaho Financial Vice President Jerry Wallace is being ousted.

The University of Idaho Foundation, a private, nonprofit group that supports the university’s mission, is trying to figure out how to pay off millions in debt.

Jaquet and Stennett are right to demand answers to the questions about the project. Yet one question remains: In the most Republican state in the nation, why are these Democrats the only ones asking?



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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.