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Eyebrows, questions raised over utility plan

<p>Mark Waite / Pahrump Valley Times - From left, Kristian Bentzen, Shane Navarra and Wendy Barnett, president of UICN, address commissioners about plans to operate raceway water utility.</p>

Mark Waite / Pahrump Valley Times - From left, Kristian Bentzen, Shane Navarra and Wendy Barnett, president of UICN, address commissioners about plans to operate raceway water utility.

Developers of Spring Mountain Motor Sports Ranch never faced opposition as they continued to expand and expand the exclusive driving club, but Libertarian-minded residents blasted commissioners Tuesday over previously approving a resolution, yet to be drafted, agreeing to take over a utility system racetrack owners planned to build.

County commissioners held a special teleconference Jan. 29 where they voted 3-1 to approve the resolution. Spring Mountain owners have plans for a major expansion with a 72-lot residential subdivision, a 50-slip recreational vehicle park, retail space, two more control towers and other improvements. Commissioner Donna Cox complained she had no backup and voted against the initial resolution, while Commissioner Lorinda Wichman missed the meeting altogether.

Commissioner Dan Schinhofen said Tuesday’s action was just to ratify the resolution already approved. Commissioner Butch Borasky said the commission received an opinion from the state Legislative Counsel Bureau they could proceed with the utility acquisition. He made the motion to reaffirm the resolution, which passed by a 4-1 vote, with Cox again opposed. Borasky said the only lingering issue was whether the county could take over the utility, being within seven miles of the town limits.

“There are people who have the misconception that they’re going to have to pay for this. If you read through this, it says in several places all costs will be borne by the developer, Spring Mountain Raceway,” Borasky said.

Gary Hollis, former commissioner turned consultant, said it would be a good project that would give the county standing before the Public Utilities Commission, the same argument used in the failed request to take over Pahrump Utilities Inc. Hollis said it will also create jobs.

Resident Kenny Bent said the commissioners approved a concept without any worded resolution at a meeting few people were aware of. He said the question before the LCB was whether the county could acquire a utility in an unincorporated area of the county. Bent accused commissioners of deception, noting the sewer plant would actually be built on the proposed Pahrump Fairgrounds property nearby, not on the racetrack, in an upcoming development agreement still to be scheduled, which also provides for the county to receive the recycled effluent.

Commissioner Frank Carbone said locating the plant off the racetrack site could be an issue.

“Words like it was a ploy, a deception, a back door, I reject those. Nobody has done anything like a ploy or a back door. We’ve done everything as always according to the rules. An ethics complaint was filed against that meeting and guess what? We didn’t break any ethical rules. Anything we do doesn’t just affect you, it affects us too. Nothing is ever being discussed about metering anybody’s wells,” Schinhofen replied.

Dwight Lilly didn’t believe the county should be involved in operating a utility system. He stressed the community is rural and said the county doesn’t have the expertise to run the system.”There’s a sense of this that you are in the pocket of developers in this area,” he said.

“This is simply a formality. It’s already been signed. You guys have already passed it. It’s a done deal so anything we say is not really going to matter,” county commission candidate and groundwater committee member Dave Caudle said. He said the resolution violated Nevada Revised Statutes Chapter 318 which deals with General Improvement Districts.

“This only benefits the race track. It does not benefit any of the taxpayers in this county except them. Now I know there are a lot of supporters of the race track and it’s a beautiful facility, but the county should not be involved at all in any kind of a utility,” Caudle said.

Schinhofen replied, “How about the benefits the jobs will bring? How about the benefits it will bring to people coming here and spending their money?”

Wichman said the county already operates 17 water systems. She emphasized this is just a resolution showing intent, there’s a development agreement considered in the future where there will be plenty of public comment.

Nye County Republican Party Central Committee member Kristian Bentzen, who is also on the groundwater committee, said people polled didn’t think government could run Pahrump Utilities Inc. better than the Hafen family.

“I do not believe government should be in the utility business,” Bentzen said. “Government should stop expanding.”

Wendy Barnett, president of Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada, said part of the speedway is in their service territory, which would require the PUC to approve an annexation. She thought the Nye County Water District was the proper forum to discuss it as Wichman suggested.

“One of the things the Public Utilities Commission would ask is: does it do harm to current ratepayers?” Barnett asked. “A lot of people here are wanting answers.”

“We would be serving an island utility and I know the Public Utilities Commission is against serving island utilities,” she said.

Water board member John Bosta called it a ploy to avoid going through the Public Utilities Commission but said the county would then have to construct it.

County commission candidate Gary Bergman said a county ordinance requires the board to take into account the potential impairment of natural resources.

Cox said the 427-acre fairgrounds property was given to the town for a fairgrounds not a sewer plant.

“I think this is one of the most idiotic ideas I’ve ever heard. If these people have the money to develop a property like this then they should develop it and they should pay for it,” she said.

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