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UICN plans Willow Creek green zone; responds to critics

Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada is reportedly taking community input into consideration as it moves forward in developing plans for the former Willow Creek Golf Course, which was awarded to the company in a bankruptcy settlement hearing last week.

Although UICN still needs to finalize approval for certain filings to officially take title to the property, Wendy Barnett, Regional Director of UICN’s parent company, Utilities, Inc. said in a statement “we are very excited at the prospect of working on a solution that will benefit the community. With approval from the necessary governmental agencies, UICN will be able to remediate what the Nevada District Court found to be a public health and safety hazard created by others.”

According to a press release from UICN, the company has long been looking for a way to address the issues of the ponds on the property where the company discharges effluent and owns $8 million in water rights.

“The prior owners of the property ignored their contractual obligations and numerous court orders requiring the ponds to be properly maintained,” Barnett said. “Since we didn’t own the property, there was nothing we could directly do to insure that maintenance. We did of course ask the court to step in and require the maintenance, which it did. Now, as soon as we have regulatory approval, we will be able to move quickly to correct the situation there.”

The bankruptcy process for the defunct golf course began after Caldera P&G, the former owner of the property, filed for Chapter 11 protection last November after accruing large costs associated with litigation for refusing to fix the ponds.

“Our team is in place, including outside engineering resources, and we are finalizing the approval filings with the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) needed to consummate the deal allowing title transfer of the property,” Barnett said. “With approval of the Trustee, who stepped in on behalf of the current owner, we have already installed temporary fencing and signage at the ponds to minimize any hazard that may exist there.”

As UICN continues to move forward in finalizing filings over the property, the company has also reportedly began to meet with neighbors and other community members about what they would like to see happen with the former golf course.

Richard Cantino, a homeowner adjacent to the property, reportedly told UICN, “we are pleased that this is finally resolved and look forward to the prospect of working with Wendy and her team to make Willow Creek a place that everyone can use for recreation and enjoyment.”

“After years of neglect, which the Nevada judge said created a danger to the community, and uncertainty for residents about the future of Willow Creek, we are absolutely thrilled with an agreement that we can proudly say is probably the best available for all parties given the circumstances we were all put in,” said Lisa Sparrow, president and CEO of UICN. “We take our obligations to the communities we serve very seriously and are more than willing to do our share to enable beneficial use by Pahrumpians of what had become an eyesore under Caldera’s ownership.”

Sparrow additionally addressed comments made by District Attorney Brian Kunzi last week that the outcome of the bankruptcy proceedings, which cut the county out of any rights to the property, was “predetermined” by a “cozy, behind-the-scenes arrangement,” when a plan submitted by Caldera P&G’s trustee excluding Nye County was accepted by the judge.

“The Trustee, the County and UICN all agreed on the structure of a solution over five months ago. The failure to bring it to the county board for approval or to respond to repeated requests for status updates from us and from the Trustee’s attorney coupled with the last-minute attempt to modify terms unfortunately derailed the County’s participation,” Sparrow said in a statement.

She additionally stated Kunzi’s claim that the legal fees incurred by UICN over the years could have been put to use fixing the problems with the ponds on the property was incorrect.

“That is, of course, simply not true. First of all, we did not own the property and had no legal right to do the necessary remediation work. Secondly, those fees were incurred successfully defending ourselves in multiple lawsuits alleging that we were the cause of the problems at Willow Creek. Every court decision and regulatory agency responsible found beyond any doubt that the sole cause of the problem was the neglect of the owners to properly maintain the ponds. In every venue, the allegation that we discharged raw sewage was proven unequivocally false,” she said.

“Nevada law requires that all expenditures made by a utility be fully evaluated by the PUCN before they can become part of the rate base for the utility and we are confident that they will agree that this is the best option for ratepayers. As Ms. Barnett indicated, we’ve begun the work to get those approvals from the commission. Had the county prevailed with their generalized eleventh hour proposal to purchase the property outright which appeared at last week’s bankruptcy court hearing, those costs of remediation and ongoing maintenance would have been borne by taxpayers in some form, without the benefit of independent oversight,” Sparrow added.

In a closing statement, Sparrow stated that, “Our focus has been, and will continue to be, the safe operation of our plant and effluent disposal, making prudent investments on behalf of our customers and facilitating the improvement of the golf course land that has been neglected by the prior owners.”

In addition to working with informal citizens’ groups on this project, UICN has reportedly asked the PUCN to hold a consumer session to solicit suggestions for potential use of the property and explain in detail the plan and timing for remediation and improvement.

“We want this redevelopment to be a real community effort and we’re ready to get started as soon as approvals are received,” Barnett said.

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