For over four months the Virgin Valley Water District (VVWD) board has been debating whether to fund a study for placing a second water line under the Virgin River in order to provide redundancy of service to the area of Mesquite south of I-15. The decision to fund the $80,000 study had failed in the past for a variety of reasons, but at the request of board member Rich Bowler and several citizens the issue was again on the board’s Feb. 16 meeting agenda.
That was too much for board member “Bubba” Smith, who went on a 10 minute denunciation of the staff and the majority of the board. Smith twice called VVWD general manager Kevin Brown a “liar.”
“We keep saying we are going to go back under the river, back under the river and then we throw some lies into it and make it sound so spectacular and we solve absolutely nothing,” Smith charged.
Smith also said that he and board member Sandra Ramaker were “treated differently” by the other board members. While almost all votes of the board are unanimous, both Ramaker and Smith have consistently argued that the district should be developing water sources on the Mesquite side of the river, instead of building another line from Bunkerville. “We don’t have enough water on this side of the river,” said Smith.
Smith also questioned why the line was to be buried instead of hung across the bridge as had been done in the past.
Board Chair Nephi Julien took exception to Smith’s comments on manager Brown, “I’m sickened by this. When the general manager tells me he can’t sleep at night over this I don’t march in and tell him he is a liar.” Julien added, “I trust Kevin Brown as did everyone on this board. If he says we need another line we need another line.”
Julien also responded to Smith’s comments about drilling more wells on the north side of the river. “Are we going to be drilling more wells in Mesquite, absolutely, but we need to get this line going as well.”
Director Barbara Ellestad gave a lengthy rebuttal to Smith’s remarks and noted that the board had just unanimously given manager Brown a pay raise. Ellestad also told Smith that the issue of the line study was in the approved 2015-16 budget of the district and all the issues raised by Smith had been discussed at length over the last year.
“We’re having a redundant discussion on a redundant line,” quipped director Rich Bowler.
Ellestad also demanded that Smith apologize to Brown. Smith declined. “Do general managers and engineers lie? Absolutely and I offer no, zero apology,” said Smith.
Ellestad also charged “There are people in town who want to split the district, and that’s why they don’t want to spend money on the Bunkerville side.”
District consulting engineer Sam Senn of Fosgren Associates, who was proposing the study of the river crossing, was asked by chair Julien to respond to Smith’s comments. Senn told the board that the reason the line was to be buried and not hung on the bridge was two fold: It was less expensive to bury the line and suspending the line on the bridge exposed the water system to natural hazards such as flooding and security concerns. Senn told the board he last time the line was suspended under the old bridge the line was broken by someone shooting at it.
Senn also noted that the water on the Bunkerville side of the district is of better quality than the wells on the north side, and that there are treatment facilities next to the water wells which would have to be constructed for new wells on the Mesquite side. The cost of a new well is estimated to be $2.5 million.
Julien also read two letters into the record. The first was from Sun City resident Tim Castille, a retired owner of an engineering company who urged the board to install the second line, “Reliability without redundancy is an impossibility.”
The second letter was from the Mesquite Chamber of Commerce which also supported the second line across the river saying “The Chamber board of directors feel this is a critical action required to mitigate a known system weakness and to insure continued water service to Mesquite’s main business corridor.”
Several Mesquite residents and business leaders also urged the board to fund the study for the second line including Dave Ballweg, Ken Cook, Jeff Powell and Dave Bennett.
Resident Bill Hurd admonished the board and said the discussion was “nuts.” “Bring the facts forward instead of arguing on personalities then you can understand why the decisions were made,” Hurd said. Hurd urged the board to use “hired people” to do the homework and have the professionals do it.
Ellestad responded by saying that several months ago all the options for the line had been presented by staff and professional engineers “as you said” and the recommendation was to bury the line under the river.
No one testified against the proposed study or a second line.
General manager Brown ended the discussion saying “I don’t believe I’ve lied to anybody and I think I’ve been forthright since I’ve been here.” Brown told the board that before the rate increase was proposed he clearly identified the things that needed to be taken care of in the six year plan, “This was one of them, including the additional tank in Sun City.”
Smith said he agreed with Hurd’s comments and offered an apology to the public. He reiterated his charge that he and Ramaker are “treated differently” than other board members but said “All of us have the public’s best interest at heart.”
Ellestad moved to spend the $80,000 requested for the study of a second line under the river and it was approved unanimously.