"It's been sixteen years since we started representing you," Link Browder commented. "And, we've helped you obtain over $27 million in federal funds." That's how the Virgin Valley Water District's federal lobbyist with the Furman Group began his justification on why the VVWD Board of Directors should continue paying his $6,000 a month retainer fee when they discussed it at their Apr. 17 meeting.
"I understand the economic situation and that you're not going to build any large infrastructure projects in the near future. However, the Gold Butte issue is gaining momentum back in Washington D.C. You're going to see a designation of some type in the next couple years. There's many different ideas and proposals of what it should look like. I haven't seen anything in concrete recently," Browder briefed the Directors.
He went on to add that having seen the proposal that Congresswoman Shelley Berkley presented in 2007 and 2008, "there is language in it that could threaten your ability to develop a new water supply from the Virgin Mountains and Nickel Creek." The Water District has approximately 2,000 acre feet per year of permitted water from that area.
He implied that without his continued representation, "you won't have a seat at the table when the horse trading goes back and forth in Washington D.C.," on a final Gold Butte proposal. "I think it's important that you have someone back there who's involved in it to act on your behalf."
Browder also mentioned the recently proposed U.S. Geological Survey study to determine the amount of water available in Basin 222. "If you decide to pursue this, it's critical to have the Congressional delegation behind you."
He discussed the 'earmark' moratorium Congress has placed on adding peripheral funding to appropriations bills, saying "we can't help provide the type of funding as we have in the past. I see the tide shifting on this. It was primarily an election year issue in 2010. They've figured out it's not good policy and they're trying to figure out how to delicately get themselves out of that box."
During the ensuing Board member discussion, General Manager Ken Rock mentioned that the retainer fee the District pays the Furman Group is "one percent of the budget and it's worth it to us. $72,000 versus $28 million in grants is pretty good. The Nickel Creek water supply issue is pretty critical."
Browder went on to explain that "you have current wells that will be within the National Conservation Area (NCA) designation. You'll probably have more."
Kenyon Leavitt, Bunkerville representative on the Board commented that, "you've been able to get us money. But will you get us the access we need when the head guys make the decisions," about Gold Butte issues.
"Yes. We'll help get what you need. What you don't need are restrictions on your ability to go out there and develop water. By having a seat at the table, we're going to be very involved in that whole process," Browder explained.
"My problem is that the gears have changed," Board member Richard Bowler commented. "We're no longer dealing with growth. My thinking is that I'm tired of paying retainers every month. I understand the need for a lobbyist when we have issues. But, we're not doing the ratepayers a favor paying these retainers."
The District's current contract extends through November although it has a 90-day cancellation clause. The Board members requested that Browder submit periodic reports to them about current work he's doing for the District.
Leavitt made a motion that the District continue its contract with the Furman Group through November with the understanding that the right-of-way issue for water development in the Nickel Creek area would be a primary priority along with the Board's concerns about the Gold Butte NCA.
Four Board members voted in favor
of the motion with Ted Miller opposing it.
The Board also approved a contract with CH Spencer & Company worth $5,750 for a new 10-inch impeller and necessary rebuild gaskets for Well #29 booster pump.
The Directors also decided to seek bids to paint the water storage tank located near the I-15 freeway in the next fiscal year. Rock also requested they approve him seeking a contractor to paint a design or graphics on the tank that would help promote tourism in the city.
"I appreciate beauty and tourism. But it's not our role to promote tourism," Bowler commented. "If the City of Mesquite pays some of the cost, that's fine. If it's just us, then just get a bid, get it painted, and let it be a water tank. We’ve spent a lot of manhours on something that's not our concern."
Rock had made a presentation to the Mesquite City Council asking them to help fund the portion of the painting costs for a logo or other decoration on the water tank.
"Let's just do our job," Miller commented. "Our job is that we need to have the tank painted. If someone wants to come forth and put a decal on there, we'll entertain it at that time."
"My concern is that just getting a design is only part of it," Leavitt said. "Then we have to get a citizen's group together and do all that."
Sandra Ramaker, Board member, stated that if someone proposed a decoration it should not have an advertisement theme.
Leavitt made a motion to get bids to paint the tank, "and that's it."
Board President Karl Gustaveson questioned if the motion included seeking someone to paint a decoration on the tank.
"Nope," Leavitt replied.
"It wouldn't cost us a dime to go out and get a proposal to do that," Gustaveson shot back.
"It's the City of Mesquite's job to promote tourism, not ours," Bowler stated.
The vote was 3-2 on the motion with Gustaveson and Sandra Ramaker voting no.
VVWD legal counsel Bo Bingham announced that the District had received $2.787 million as the final settlement in the Vanguard defective pipe legal action.
Rock issued an apology to the Board for not following the proper protocols and procedures in awarding a bid for work several weeks ago.
During the public comment period, local resident Dave Ballweg read a Letter to the Editor that appeared in a local newspaper authored by Mike Ford, the Water District's lobbyist with Robcyn, LLC. The letter criticized the news coverage of the recent conflict between local rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management.
"Mr. Ford was identified as the Southwest Director of The Conservation Fund. This tends to give a conflict of interest," Ballweg stated.
"This is an issue that has absolutely nothing to do with the Virgin Valley Water District," Gustaveson said. "This is an issue with Mr. Bundy and the Federal government and the State."
"My point is that Mr. Ford represents the Virgin Valley Water District in negotiations with the Virgin River Habitat Conservation fund," Ballweg explained. "Two meetings prior to this, we were hit by a bombshell on how he's negotiating with the Fish & Wildlife Agency and Clark County on separating the Virgin River Habitat fund [from the Clark County Habitat plan]."
"Basically, Mr. Ford already has an agenda on this issue. But he hasn't represented that agenda or his other associations to this Board," Ballweg continued. "I was very surprised at that meeting that Mr. Rock did not think it was important to inform the Board that the next day he had a long meeting scheduled with the Fish and Wildlife and other people on the conservation issue. I don't think there's been a full disclosure by all parties involved with the Virgin River Habitat Conservation program."
No further comments were added.