By Mark Waite
The Pahrump Valley Times received a copy Thursday of the right-of-way agreement Valley Electric signed with the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe last fall to complete the northwest transmission line through the reservation.
But the 55-page document, received almost four months after the PVT submitted the request, has large blocks of information blacked out, anything that has to do with the financial arrangements.
The document mentions an initial up-front payment, 25 annual base payments and a transmission revenue payment to the tribe.
In return, VEA, or the newly-created Valley Electric Transmission Authority, VETA, received the right to build two 230-kilvolt and two 138-kilovolt electric transmission circuits and two optical ground wire fiber optic cables, along with related poles, guy wires, anchors, wires, cables and other fixtures.
After 10 years of negotiating a right-of-way agreement for the rest of the 58-mile route with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, conservation areas hemmed in the routes that could be taken to complete the 238-kilovolt transmission line that will cost $38 million.
VEA broke ground on the project in November 2010. The six mile section transiting the reservation will skirt the perimeter rather than go directly down the middle along Highway 95 to connect with the Desert View Substation in northwestern Las Vegas.
The right-of-way agreement extends for 50 years, allowing an 80-foot wide easement.
“Valley Electric acknowledges that the tribe is a sovereign government that exercises jurisdiction over its land and territory, including with respect to those entities that voluntarily enter into business or other transactions with the tribe,” the agreement states.
A clause states both parties will maintain the confidentiality of the right-of-way agreement.
Kellie Youngbear, superintendent of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, in a letter to the Pahrump Valley Times, said portions of the document were withheld pursuant to an exemption in the Freedom of Information Act that protects “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person which is privileged or confidential.”
Youngbear wrote, “This exemption is intended to protect both the interests of commercial entities that submit proprietary information to the government and the interests of the government in receiving continued access to it. Information is considered confidential if disclosure of it ‘is likely to cause substantial harm to the competitive position of the person from whom the information was obtained’ or harm the government’s ability to obtain it.”
“The Las Vegas Paiute Tribe and Valley Electric Association that supplies this information is considered a person under the law because the term person includes a wide range of entities including corporations and tribes,” Youngbear wrote.
The BIA superintendent added, “public release of this information in response to this FOIA request would cause potential harm to their competitive position in the marketplace. It would give an unfair advantage to other proponents in future negotiations for a similar right-of-way.”
The Pahrump Valley Times might appeal the decision to redact the financial information. A few pages are almost completely blacked out as well as more than half of the content in several more pages.
VEA Chief Executive Officer Tom Husted wasn’t available for comment by press time. During a brief comment after a debate between two candidates for district one on the VEA board of directors, Valley Electric attorney Curt Ledford said the cooperative didn’t want the information revealed for fear others negotiating right-of-way or easements with VEA in the future would look to the agreement with the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe and possibly demand more money.
In a signing ceremony conducted with much fanfare Oct. 27, 2011 at the reservation, Las Vegas Paiute Tribal Chairman Tonia Means, while reaching to grab a sculpture Husted presented, jokingly remarked, “it better be a big bag of money Tom.”
Husted replied, “you know there is that also.”
While both parties were signing the agreement, Husted remarked, “I believe this is where the check comes in.”
Bill Marion, with the public relations firm of Purdue Marion and Associates, hailed the agreement as more than just a right-of-way agreement, but a business partnership between VEA and the tribe.
During the ceremony, Husted offered the cooperative’s assistance in setting up a Las Vegas Paiute Tribe electrical utility.
The northwest transmission line will help the cooperative ensure reliability requirements with the North American Reliability Council. Power was out to most of Pahrump for more than 12 hours in October 2007 after a vandal shot out a power line between Sandy Valley and Goodsprings that snapped in cold weather.
In March 2011, Husted told the VEA board of directors the cooperative would pay $546,000 in desert tortoise mitigation for the new transmission line.