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Water board also questioned raceway utility plan

The Nye County Commission wasn’t the only board to get cold feet about the proposed acquisition of a water and sewer plant at Spring Mountain Motor Sports.

Last week, the Nye County Water District board voted unanimously not to have anything to do with the county’s request to accept the utility. Tonopah Town Manager James Eason, a water board member who runs Tonopah Public Utilities, made the motion.

“Running a utility at this point in time, in my opinion, is not in our best interest,” Eason said.

Eason asked why Nye County hadn’t set up an enterprise fund, which is a separate budget for a utility where revenues and expenditures are supposed to balance out. He added until the Basin 162 groundwater management plan advisory committee comes up with its plan to address the imbalance between water usage and perennial yield in Pahrump “we would be spinning our wheels.”

That led county commission liaison Frank Carbone to question the purpose of the Nye County Water District Board, which was created by the 2007 Nevada Legislature.

“Does it take six years to make this board become something?” Carbone asked. “This board was put in place in 2009. How many more years does it take to become mature?”

Eason was receptive to that suggestion. He was frustrated at a lack of consultation on key issues, pointing out no one requested their opinion before commissioners had their first meeting on the raceway project in January.

Water board member Michael Lach said operating small utilities are expensive, money Nye County doesn’t have right now. A 77-unit residential subdivision is planned, along with a commercial strip and hotel. He asked, “how much would Nye County have to charge those 200 people to even come close to a break even in running this facility, even if we got the facility for free?”

Lach speculated there could be other reasons Spring Mountain wants Nye County to take over the system.

“This track caters to high- end people who don’t want to smell the fumes that come out of the sewer treatment facility,” Lach said. “The reason this is being put on the fairgrounds is to get it away from their facility.”

The water district April 28 voted to recommend approval of a development agreement with Spring Mountain Motor Sports, providing Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada issues a letter approving the new utility within their service territory and an engineer issues a pro forma statement with the revenues and expenditures of operating it.

UICN President Wendy Barnett and her attorney, Laura Granier, from Lionel, Sawyer and Collins, showed up at the water board meeting to give their answer.

“I think it’s a given that we are not pleased with Nye County wanting to provide service in our service territory,” Barnett said.

She also asked about a pro forma with the financials on the utility operations and questioned Nye County’s ability to run it.

“We have the highest grade certified operators possible in Nevada. I have concerns with the staffing at Nye County being spread too thin. I’ve heard numbers from 17 to 19 utilities. I don’t think all of them are utilities run by Nye County, as much as they might be wells,” Barnett said.

Nye County Water District General Manager Darrell Lacy said the county has a public works superintendent familiar with running water and sewer utilities. He said package and modular sewer systems are used all over the country in a cost-effective manner.

Part of Spring Mountain property would have to be annexed into the UICN service territory, Barnett said. The Public Utilities Commission would have to hold a public hearing. Barnett said the PUC objects to “island utilities,” which means another utility operating by itself within another utility’s service territory.

“You are here to provide, protect and serve water resources in Nye County and another that this is an over-appropriated valley and you are to make decisions to deal with that. A decision to support Nye County providing service to Spring Mountain is moving in the wrong direction with respect to both of those goals,” Granier said.

Granier read Nevada Revised Statute Chapter 244, which requires a public vetting by the county, noting no service plan has been presented. She added NRS Chapter 542, which created the water district, empowered the water board to acquire sustainable sources of water, like a new utility, implying commissioners are usurping the water board’s statutory rights, a statement Carbone agreed with. She added the state law requires the water board to cooperate with other agencies to conserve water and not interfere with others’ water or water rights.

“There is interference that will occur here if Nye County seeks to provide service within UICN’s service territory. UICN was in negotiations with the developer, was ready, willing and able to provide service and Nye County has jumped into the middle of those negotiations for no reason other than the fact that perhaps they don’t like UICN expanding its service territory,” Granier said. “UICN and its ratepayers have investment-backed expectations. They have invested in service to provide service within their certificated service territory, which Nye County is attempting to encroach upon with attempts to service Spring Mountain.”

Granier said she expects there would be protests if the county wanted to change water rights allocated to the Calvada Eye to other locations with the UICN service territory, like the fairgrounds.

Lacy countered an attorney general’s opinion allows the county to operate a utility within a utility company’s service territory.

“The UICN service territory is very clearly in state law not an exclusive franchise. It’s not something to say the county can or can’t be there. It’s what makes the most sense,” Lacy said. “I can understand their desire to maintain their service territory but in regards to, I think it’s the water district or the county’s purview of what provides the best approach to smart growth in the area.”

But Eason said that AG’s opinion, written for Lyon County, was from 1986.

“If I was the county I would not hang our hats on this,” Eason said.

Barnett said, “if UICN did provide service to Spring Mountain it would provide a much easier means for us to provide service to the fairgrounds which is also in our service territory.” She said acquiring the Spring Mountain system would be an asset for their ratepayers and provide a mechanism for UICN to provide infrastructure at the south end of town.

Barnett said UICN didn’t protest when Nye County was under a deadline to use a $198,000 federal grant to drill a well at the fairgrounds property, but said her company will protest the minute Nye County puts water in the well.

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