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Valley Electric rejects a plan for community center project

A proposal that at one point appeared to be a shoo-in, the plan put forward by Nye County for utilizing a promised $5 million donation toward a community center has now officially been rejected by Valley Electric Association.

In a letter sent to the county on Aug. 26, the local utility company stated that it has made the decision not to move forward on the project, a fact that came as quite a surprise to county officials.

“Valley Electric would like to thank Nye County for submitting a proposal to develop and construct a community center on the county’s property near Gamebird and Highway 160. As defined in the Letter of Intent of Aug. 6, 2019, Valley Electric, Nye County and the entity submitting the proposal must all agree for the project to move forward,” the rejection letter begins. “After much discussion over the last few months, the Valley Electric Board of Directors unanimously agreed not to proceed with the project.”

The letter goes on to list three reasons for that decision, focusing on a reported lack of consensus by members, a divergence from the original vision of the project and the reliance of the project on VEA’s $5 million donation, which was promised to the utility’s member-owners as one of the benefits of the 230-kilovolt transmission line sale that took place several years ago.

“(1) Based upon a variety of discussions with our members, our perspective is that our members do not overwhelmingly support this project and as a result, a consensus to move forward does not exist,” the letter states. “(2) the proposal does not meet the original vision of the project; and (3) the financial support of the project, if all parties agreed to proceed, would rely mostly on Valley’s donation. Based upon the above and in alignment with the Letter of Intent, we regretfully choose not to proceed with the project.”

Nye County Manager Tim Sutton responded to the letter to express the county’s profound disappointment.

“The Legacy Committee, NyE Communities Coalition and county staff have spent countless hours on this project,” Sutton wrote in an email sent to Valley Electric CEO Mark Stallons the same day the rejection letter was received. “At no time during our various meetings were we given any indication that we were as far apart as this letter seems to indicate.”

Sutton acknowledged the fact that it may now be a moot point, but he wanted to take a moment to address each of the three reasons for rejection.

He reiterated that VEA had not in any way expressed or even alluded to the apparent disparity between what the county was envisioning and what VEA expected, writing, “I am only aware of two ‘visions’ for this project. One came about through the extensive work, deliberations and research of the Legacy Committee (of which I was a part) and the other was that of former CEO Tom Husted, which was presented at VEA’s annual meeting several years ago, complete with a 3D model but ultimately deemed financially and logistically impractical.”

Sutton said the county has stayed true to the vision of the Legacy Committee, which was charged with the task of teasing out the details of the project, and he was not made aware that vision had changed. Moreover, he added, over the course of meetings and discussions in the past seven months, the county’s proposal had remained fairly consistent and the county even had a previous letter from VEA stating that its plans had been well-received. “If they were so far askew of the original vision, we should have been notified sooner,” Sutton stated.

As to VEA’s statement that the project will rely on the donation from the utility, Sutton said this was never in question before. “Since our first presentation back in January, we’ve been candid about the fact that our proposal would rely almost entirely on VEA’s $5 million contribution for construction and thereafter, the county would use its resources for maintenance and operations. If this was a deal breaker, again, I’m not sure why we weren’t informed sooner.”

On the topic of support for the project by VEA’s member-owners, Sutton said he was not sure how this was determined, as the community center project was one of the big-ticket items that VEA used as an incentive for its member-owners to vote in favor of selling its 230-kilovolt transmission line, a sale that could not have gone through without the approval of its member-owners.

“This project began when VEA publicly and repeatedly promised various incentives to its members in exchange for their affirmative vote on the proposed sale of the 230-kv transmission line to GridLiance. The requisite 66.6% of votes were obtained, the safe was effectuated and VEA made good on its pledge to pay cash premiums to its members and roll back the 9.9% rate increases that were in effect at the time,” Sutton wrote. “However, the contribution toward the community center remains unfulfilled.”

At this time, it is unknown whether VEA’s rejection of Nye County’s proposal means the utility will seek out another entity to champion the promised project or if the community center idea is entirely dead in the water.

A request for clarification on this point, as well as additional comment on the matter, was sent to VEA by the Pahrump Valley Times on Monday, Aug. 31 but a response had not been received as of press deadline.

Sutton noted that he too desired clarification and would be reaching out to VEA as well. In the meantime, Sutton said he felt that if VEA backed out entirely, that would constitute a classic bait and switch. Sutton would hardly be the only one in Nye County to be extremely disappointed if that proves to be the case.

“Denying the county’s project is one thing but reneging on their offer altogether is another,” Sutton told the Pahrump Valley Times when reached for comment on Wednesday, Sept. 2.

Sutton said though he “vehemently disagrees” with VEA’s reason for rejection, he understood that there was no guarantee that the county’s proposal would be approved. Still, that did not mean the conversation was at an end.

“If the county’s proposal was unacceptable and there are no other viable contenders, then the money and land should be donated to the community for a comparable purpose,” Sutton asserted. “Alternatively, VEA should produce evidence, (poll, survey, etc.) that a majority of its members no longer want a community center. Either way, Valley should not be allowed to simply walk away from this commitment to our community. A promise is a promise.”

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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