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VVWD Holds Workshop to Hear Citizen Concerns about Conservation Plans-Video
Posting Date: 06/21/2012
By Barbara Ellestad
The Virgin Valley Water District (VVWD) Board of Directors convened an informal workshop on Wednesday, June 20, to hear the concerns two private citizens have with the proposed Virgin River Habitat Conservation and Recovery Plan (VHRCRP) that has been under development since the mid-2000s.
I am one of the two citizens, along with Dave Ballweg, CEO and owner of a local manufacturing company LoadTec, who made the presentation to the VVWD Board. I have struggled mightily about how to present this issue to the Mesquite Citizen Journal readers and ensure you understand that I come to this table as a private citizen and not necessarily as an Editor/Publisher of a local newspaper. Hence, the video tape so you can see the entire discussion between us and the Board and make your own determinations unfettered by my stance on this issue.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 requires conservation and mitigation of endangered animals throughout the entire southern Nevada region. Clark County created a Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) that covers mitigation for 78 species on the endangered list throughout the county. The County instituted a $550 fee for each acre of ground in the county that is developed to help offset the cost of administering the plan. The fee is often referred to as the "tortoise" fee.
In 2007 the City of Mesquite began collecting an additional $500 to help fund the Virgin River plan, a parallel plan to Clark County's. In the video you'll hear a quick explanation of why that came about.
In 2011 the Water District passed an ordinance requiring an additional $166 per water hook-up on each acre of land development in Mesquite and Bunkerville that would also help fund the Virgin River plan.
Ballweg and I have spent many hours over the last 11 months researching the situation that exists whereby those developing land in Mesquite and Bunkerville pay three mitigation fees and comply with two conservation plans. It's the only place in the southern Nevada region that does so. All other localities pay just the one $550 fee to Clark County and comply only with one plan.
Ballweg and I fully understand that the ESA law must be complied with. However, "this became a point with me because of economic development," Ballweg told the Board. "I'm looking for the most cost effective way to get this done that doesn't put the Virgin Valley at a disadvantage to the rest of Clark County."
"We want to make sure that all of the [governing] entities figure out the best economic method to comply with the environmental laws," I said. "We don't think it's a good idea to pursue a separate plan from Clark County. We think the best way to meet our goals is to remain a part of the Clark County plan."
The ESA requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to monitor activities towards habitat mitigation under the auspices of a "take" permit. The City of Mesquite was listed as a party to the 2001 permit issued to Clark County. In later years, the FWS required the VVWD to obtain a separate "take" permit for any activity it may undertake in and around the Virgin River. Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) was not required to obtain a separate permit but rather was 'umbrellaed' under Clark County.
During the workshop, Bo Bingham, VVWD legal counsel, discussed exploring the possibility of the Water District becoming an agent of the City of Mesquite, and perhaps negating the necessity of obtaining a separate permit and developing a separate conservation plan.
"I'm looking in that direction because, to the extent anyone would come forward and say that there is already a take of the species on the Virgin River, I want to make sure that we have some rational basis to avoid liability from any potential claim in that regard," Bingham said. "I don't think there's been any formal action for the City to designate us an agent under this plan."
Some people involved in the VRHCRP development have stated that the separate plan is necessary because not all endangered birds and fish are covered under the Clark County plan. "Wouldn't
it be cheaper and more cost-effective, with less economic impact in the immediate area, to add them to the Clark County plan instead of developing an entirely separate, parallel conservation plan," I asked the Directors.
Ballweg and I pointed out that a Community Advisory Committee document, approved by the Clark County Board of Commissioners in October 2010, which is an amendment to the original County plan, says, "the development of watershed based conservation plans for the Virgin and Muddy Rivers will be among the highest priorities of Phase 2 of the MSHCP."
In our research, we found references to the endangered birds and species in the Committee's document that are also covered in the proposed VRHCRP. Phase 2 of the County plan has never been pursued.
"From my take, the reason the Virgin Valley Water District has been singled out is because of the way we get our water through wells," Kenyon Leavitt, Board member remarked. "They say the reason we need a separate take permit is because they don't know if our pumping water affects the Virgin River."
An additional point we made is how Bunkerville plays into the Virgin River plan. Currently, only land developed in Mesquite incurs the $550 Clark County fee and the additional $500 VRHCRP fee. Land developed in Bunkerville only incurs the Clark County fee. Land development in both Mesquite and Bunkerville would incur the third VVWD fee.
According to Nevada Revised Statues, Mesquite cannot levy its $500 fee on Bunkerville.
"That calls into question what happens to Bunkerville if we separate from Clark County," I said. "Does Bunkerville keep paying the fee to Clark County? If they do, what role does Bunkerville have in the land portion of the Virgin River Plan? Is Clark County going to do the mitigation on that side of the river and Mesquite is going to do the mitigation on this side of the river?"
"This becomes an unmanageable fee structure," Ballweg added.
Mesquite City Councilman Kraig Hafen attended the meeting. Ted Miller, VVWD Board member asked his opinion of the discussion. "It should be one plan, one fee," Hafen remarked. He added that the City is also asking questions about the validity of having a separate or additional Virgin River plan. "We can join forces, get together, and ask the right questions."
Ballweg pointed out that the potential conservation mitigation fees a developer would pay per acre in Mesquite would be 50 percent of what it costs to purchase the land. "We're looking at a property value of about $3,000 an acre and it's going to cost $1,500 an acre in conservation fees to move the dirt," he said.
The video contains much more discussion of this issue, some of it quite lively. However, the bottom line that Ballweg and I presented to the VVWD Board of Directors is that we would like our elected officials to put the pursuit of a separate Virgin River plan on hold and diligently explore staying under the purview of the Clark County plan.
We want the elected officials to work with the FWS to have the Virgin Valley Water District covered under the same governing documents as the Southern Nevada Water Authority and have them treated the same. We ultimately want to have one plan and one fee preferably under Clark County. We would then have the same economic basis from which developers and builders can work.
The Directors determined at the end of the workshop that they would discuss the situation with their newly-hired lobbyist Warren Hardy. General Manager Ken Rock suggested putting an item on a future Board meeting agenda for discussion and possible action but was unclear what the exact wording of the item would be. Bingham also suggested exploring the possibility of having the City of Mesquite designate the Water District as an agent of it.
Ballweg and I appreciate the VVWD Board of Directors giving us an opportunity to have our voices heard.
Click here for a copy of the Talking Points presented to the VVWD Board regarding this issue.
Posted Date: 06/21/2012 Very excellent story Barb. An obvious problem. VVWD seems to have a history of these murky financial dealings. Thanks for keeping them honest. Please do a follow up on what has been done with the money already collected since 2007. Good story. By: Marjorie
Posted Date: 06/21/2012 We really need to do something about the water district. What a messed up outfit. And hiring a political insider as a lobbyist just makes it worse. What a mess. By: Viv M
Posted Date: 06/21/2012 Wow. Great story Ms private citizen. Keep after them. Something doesn't smell right. By: Sandi
Posted Date: 06/21/2012 Another very important issue. Well done. By: Tom