The Virgin Valley Water District (VVWD) announced at their board meeting Tuesday evening that they and the City Council of Mesquite are planning a joint meeting on July 15 to hear from Bureau of Land Management (BLM) representatives on the possibility of allowing fracking on public lands near Mesquite.
District Manager Kevin Brown told the board that the tentative meeting was awaiting official notice from BLM that they would attend the session. Brown told the board that he was “Working with the City in trying to get BLM to come and do a presentation.”
The issue was raised by Mesquite resident Bill Hurd during public comment. Hurd asked the board to become involved in the BLM process as fracking could affect water quality for Mesquite and Bunkerville. “We all ought to be concerned about whether this has any possible impact on the quality of supply and sources of our water,” said Hurd.
Brown said the purpose of the meeting was to hear from BLM on what the Environmental Assessment document says and what it means for water quality. The issue of fracking will also be an agenda item for the August fourth meeting of the VVWD board.
In response Hurd told the board that he believed that “BLM doesn’t take the action that they have taken unless they have somebody who expressed interest in these lands. It’s more than just talk.”
Wade Poulson, general manager of the Lincoln County Water District, also addressed the board on the issue. “There are four interested parties that requested that these lands be taken out,” said Poulson. The requests were made to the BLM office in Ely starting in 2008 and 2009 according to Poulson. As a result of the requests, an Environmental Assessment was started.
Poulson added that the assessment is just the first round of the discussion. After the assessment has been completed, if BLM wants to go forward a full scale Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would have to be done on the proposed sites. “During that time there will be more public meetings and more public comment on the EIS,” said Poulson. He emphasized that no leasing will be done until after the assessment is done and an EIS is completed.
Brown added that the assessment at this point is 221 pages long, and that “only a very small portion of the report deals as to water which is our major concern.” Brown recommended that the board read the report to become familiar with it before the meeting next week.
In other business the board heard a presentation by Bill Mitchell comparing the district’s insurance coverage under the Nevada Public Agency Insurance Pool or “Poolpact” to a proposal by Travelers Insurance. The comparison of rates and coverage was requested by the board after two claims totaling $1,500,000 were denied by Poolpact. The claims were related to the legal fee costs incurred by the district in collecting several million dollars from suits against former district manager Michael Winters, VVWD hydrologist Michael Johnson and former deputy state water engineer Robert Coache. A settlement was also made with local businessman John Lonetti who returned over $4,000,000 to the district earlier this year.
Mesquite resident John Williams also raised the issue during public comment and questioned whether the district would continue to seek the reimbursement from Poolpact. VVWD attorney Bo Bingham responded by saying “The district is vigorously pursuing those claims.” Bingham added “The district will not just walk away from these claims.”
Board member Rich Bowler expressed his frustration with Poolpact. “We can’t get them to pay a claim.” Bowler said in his personal business he is willing to pay more for his insurance coverage but when he has a claim they promptly resolve it and “write a check.”
Mitchell noted that Poolpact requires a 120 day notice before being able to drop their insurance coverage, which means that the district would have to notify them the first of the year if they intend not to stay with them in fiscal 2016-17. After discussion, it was agreed to take the issue up again in October or November.
The board also heard a presentation by Forsgren Associates and general manager Brown on three options for providing a new water supply line to cross the Virgin River between Bunkerville and Mesquite. The three options ranged in cost from $3,745,000 to $685,000. Brown noted that there was still enough money left in the Forsgren contract to allow them to complete a concept design on one of the options, and said that the staff preferred Option Three which was the lowest cost and involved digging a new line and crossing under the river.
Directors Sandra Ramaker and Bubba Smith objected, saying that choosing one option to do additional work on was spending money on an option that may not eventually be selected. Smith also stated that he believed “A well on this side (the North side of the river) is a higher priority.” Bowler pointed out that they were not selecting an option, but just using the remainder of the Forsgren contract to get more information on the low-cost option.
Director Barbara Ellestad noted that the Virgin River crossing project was in the fiscal 2016-17 budget so doing additional work on option three was not connected to drilling a new well on the North side. Ellestad noted that it takes months to get permits from the various agencies and if the district was going to start work next fiscal year they needed to get more information now.
With Board President Nephi Julien absent, a vote was taken upon a motion by Bowler to approve spending the remaining $3,000 of the Forsgren contract getting a concept design on Option Three. The motion failed two-to-two with Ramaker and Smith voting no.
After the vote, Mesquite businessman Dave Ballweg chastised the two members who voted no. Ballweg urged Smith and Ramaker to “Rethink your thought processes.”
The board also approved a contract with J & J Enterprises for continuing to provide asphalt patching on service lateral repairs for the next fiscal year. Three bids were received and J & J Enterprises was determined to be the lowest qualified bidder.