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County blasts UICN in PUC testimony

A Nye County official blasted Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada in comments on the company’s integrated resource plan in front of the Nevada Public Utilities Commission.

The barbs focused on the mounting legal fees UICN is racking up in protests against the county as well as a lack of cooperation, both in drawing up the revised Pahrump master plan and failing to provide maps of underground piping.

The county filed to intervene in the company’s capital improvements plan for the next three years, which was presented to the PUC. UICN said if the projects were approved and completed they would require a 12.7-percent hike in residential water rates and a 3.5 percent hike in sewer rates.

Nye County Water District General Manager Darrell Lacy’s testimony dealt with wide-ranging gripes with UICN besides the specific projects outlined in the plan.

“Nye County would like to protest the high legal bills incurred by UICN and proposed to be expensed in existing and future rates. A prudent business or government entity will negotiate and settle disputes to minimize cost and litigation expenses. Nye County has learned firsthand and witnessed UICN’s tactics to use the courts for their interest and not necessarily for the rate payer’s best interest,” Lacy testified. He asked that legal fees in the Willow Creek Golf Course cases be reviewed in a separate docket before including them in the rate base.

Lacy said comments made that Nye County and the Town of Pahrump were consulted on the UICN integrated resource plan were not accurate. Likewise, he said the revised Pahrump master plan, a process that has been ongoing for over three years, has been developed with no information from UICN.

The integrated resource plan should support projects to drill and pump from areas in the Pahrump basin where the Nye County Water District has identified adequate resources. Projects should integrate beneficial reuse of effluent into sewer plant design, Lacy said. Evaporation of effluent through ponds or spray fields should be eliminated, he said, rapid infiltration basins should be encouraged and placed in areas for maximum benefit.

Lacy asked the PUC to require future UICN projects conform to county plans and UICN provide relevant information.

“We also request that UICN have formal discussions with Nye County and the Nye County Water District on all future projects before submission to the PUCN for approval,” Lacy said.

Nye County also asked the PUC to schedule a separate docket for a review of existing service territories and water rights. Lacy said the existing service territory is large and wasn’t evaluated under state law on annexation. UICN holds approximately 26,000 acre feet of water rights in trust to support current land and subdivisions, but Lacy added the company admitted they can’t provide service to large parts of their existing territory.

“A docket to review these water rights with the Nevada Division of Water Resources, Nye County and the Nye County Water District is needed to identify excess dedications for relinquishment to the basin and allocate appropriate amounts for existing lots and subdivisions,” Lacy testified.

On the specific projects, Lacy said Desert View Hospital should pay some of the $339,764 cost of a 3,700-foot extension of water line which only benefits them.

A future developer should pay for upgrades to the bankrupt Ishani Ridge project, where UICN proposes extending water lines 900 feet to a fire hydrant at a cost of $102,367, he said.

Nye County wants to be involved in development plans for vacant property around Mountain View Casino, rumored to be undergoing an ownership change and around Firebird Circle, where UICN proposes a $309,965 water line extension, eliminating the need to cross Highway 160 to provide fire protection.

A $643,621 project extending 7,000 feet of water pipeline from Blagg Road and Highway 372 to Mountain View Estates on Bunch Street is an expensive project for 27 customers, Lacy said.

In his comments, Certified Public Accountant Gary Robinson, a regulatory consultant for the Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the PUC should reject the Mountain View Estates interconnect project, a stand-alone system in which UICN serves a mobile home community with water service only, from a well. He said the UICN hasn’t provided justification this large investment in the pipeline extension is prudent, amounting to $25,063 per customer, he added it would create another dead end line.

The BCP also recommended rejecting company requests for booster pump station permanent generator projects at Country View Estates and Alfalfa Street. Robinson said the company has portable generators for backup power and there have been few power outages.

Robinson also argued against approving an upgrade to the dewatering system and a filtration improvement project at sewer plant No.3 on Willow Creek Golf Course. He said UICN, in response to his request, said the dewatering system is able to meet the current demands of the plant with the use of one generator working overtime. Demands aren’t expected to increase significantly on the filtering system. Both projects add up to $1.3 million, or 29 percent of the total $4.49 million costs in the action plan, the BCP said.

UICN has assessed the irrigation system and done percolation tests during delays in acquiring the Willow Creek golf course property, as a result Robinson said rapid infiltration basins are an alternate means of disposing effluent. If there are budget constraints, he said effluent disposal projects should take priority over replacing treatment systems at plant No. 3.

The plan includes $50,000 for a Willow Creek master plan, expected to be completed late this year.

Well inspections, costing $300,000, are routine maintenance and shouldn’t be included in the plan, Robinson said.

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