At the close of the April 3 board meeting, Barbara Ellestad announced her immediate resignation from the Virgin Valley Water District Board of Directors. Ellestad leaves the board almost nine months before the conclusion of her term that would normally run to Dec. 31. She had previously declined to register for re-election in this year’s election cycle. Ellestad is former editor and current reporter for Mesquite Local News.
Following the meeting, Ellestad stated “I am satisfied with attaining most of my goals during my term as director. I appreciate all the help I received from the water district manager and staff.”
Ellestad joined the VVWD board of directors in 2015 with a laundry list of objectives. She was elected following the conviction of VVWD former hydrologist Michael “Boomer” Johnson and Nevada State assistant water engineer Robert Coache on charges of defrauding the district in sales of senior water shares. She was a reporter for Mesquite Local News and publisher editor of her own online publication, Mesquite Citizen Journal, covering VVWD meetings since 2007. Her investigative reporting of the illegal activities of the pair was instrumental in bringing their conviction.
Other illegal actions by then district manager Mike Winters were also exposed. The district was able to recover almost $5 million in settlement of payments from the lost value of the water shares that had been traded for those owned by another individual. That trade had netted more than $1 million for Johnson and Coache. The pair hid their profits by, among other things, purchasing houses in Las Vegas which were stripped from them in their conviction.
In her 2014 campaign platform, Ellestad sought to bring financial stability to the district that was awash in debt following the fraud litigation. Soon after her election, she voted for a huge increase in user rates that was seen as an emergency required to match actual infrastructure expenses. Following that tectonic shift in VVWD finances, Ellestad vowed the district should never need to vote for another massive rate change. She advocated long term infrastructure planning and a stepped approach to rate and fee increases to allow water users and developers the opportunity to budget for water expenses.
With the adoption of a tentative budget for FY2019, the district has returned to a secure position of manageable debt and adequate revenue streams for the foreseeable future.
Never one to mince words, Ellestad is a vocal critic of what she views as underpricing of VVWD water share leases held by Wolf Creek and Conestoga Golf Courses. Those courses transacted leases for about 150 water shares each in 2011, paying $250 per share per year. Those lease contracts are set to run through 2019. The favorable rate provided to Mesquite golf courses became a glaring contrast to the $1,246 per share rate paid by Southern Nevada Water Authority for water it leases from VVWD.
An additional question of under use came to light when it was ascertained that each course uses about 100 of their 150 shares each year to service their water needs. Both courses have failed to respond to a request by VVWD to early renegotiation of leases. The unused water could be re-leased to SNWA at the higher rate.
While resolution of future water share rates for the golf courses remains an open question, Mesquite Gaming has returned 80 water shares it used for golf course maintenance to VVWD. That voluntary action came after Ellestad approached Mesquite Gaming management on the issue.
The unresolved question of financial value to the community in the operation of premier golf courses versus realization of water asset value for VVWD will continue to dominate board attention.