By Jack King
The Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority will prepare an authorization request for Congress seeking federal money for the project by Aug. 13, even though a financial study showing how its members will pay for the project has not been completed.
The board of the water authority, which is planning a Ute Reservoir water distribution system for regional communities, met Wednesday in Grady.
Cost of the project is estimated to be approximately $250 million and the board is seeking 80 percent of that from the federal government.
Board member Darrell Bostwick of Melrose said staff in the office of Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., have told him that if the water authority wants to get all or part of that money during this session of Congress, it must get an authorization request to the offices of Bingaman and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., before Oct. 1, the beginning of the next federal fiscal year.
Bostwick said Bingaman aide Mike Conner told him the authority should not delay the authorization request, even if all the parts of it are not yet complete. A draft design of the project is written, but comments and edits by participants have not been incorporated, and the financial study has not been started.
“Conner said what we have right now is adequate,” Bostwick said.
Mayors David Lansford of Clovis and Orlando Ortega of Portales said they will request public works directors and financial officers of their cities be made available to help smaller towns on the authority board do economic analyses showing whether and how much they will have to raise water rates or taxes to pay for their participation in the project.
Ortega said that once the analyses are completed, the board will consider asking larger towns, such as Clovis, Portales and Tucumcari, to subsidize the smaller communities so that none are left out of the project.
“It’s like a church trip where you have 12 seats on the bus, but only four kids can afford the full cost of the trip,” Lansford said. “You don’t tell the other eight they can’t go, but first you find out how much each can pay.”
“I’ve thought all along that if Clovis and Portales could pay one cent more on their rates it could mean the difference in whether Texico could participate,” said David Sanders, the board’s Roosevelt County member.
In other business, discussed payment to Smith Engineering, which does design work for the board.
Lansford said the firm has not been paid for three months, which is holding up other authority money because of a contract dispute between the Bureau of Reclamation and the Eastern Plains Council of Governments, through which the authority gets its funds.