Ute Water bill placed in omnibus

By CNJ staff writer: Kevin Wilson

TEXICO — The Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority is optimistic about an omnibus.

That appears to be the fate for the potential Senate authorization for the Ute Water Project, which would pump water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to authority members.

Federal consultant John Ryan told authority members during Wednesday’s meeting that the $432 million project — with funding percentages of 75 percent federal, 15 percent state and 10 percent local — is one of 96 bills joined together to create Senate Bill 3213.

The omnibus is a collection of 96 bills reported by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

Ryan said he doesn’t expect the authorization to be a source of much debate in the Senate, or when the House of Representatives creates a joint bill. Part of that optimism, Ryan said, is based on the House’s previous passage authorizing the project and unified support from New Mexico’s five Congressional members.

“That’s no small feat in an election year in which some of them are running against each other,” Ryan said. “We easily could have become trapped in politics, and fortunately that’s not the case.”

Ryan said the bill could move through Congress when it goes into session in July or September. Should President Bush approve the bill, the next step would be to ask the Bureau of Reclamation and other departments to consider the Ute Water Project in their 2009 budgets.

The authority later voted on a pair of resolutions to accept grant/loan agreements from the New Mexico Water Trust Board. One agreement is a 90 percent grant/10 percent loan agreement for $1.25 million, the other an 80/20 agreement for $2.27 million. Both loans are payable over 20 years with .25 percent interest.

The money would help the project reach a design status of 30 percent.

Portales Mayor and Authority Vice Chair Orlando Ortega said his city fully supports the project, but did not feel comfortable taking on the loan’s financial commitments.

“We just feel at this time we have needs in our community we have to take care of immediately,” Ortega said.

Clovis Mayor and Authority Chair Gayla Brumfield said the money’s low interest rate was too good to pass up. She noted the cost of interest, about $18,000, was a good deal for the $3.5 million the authority would receive. Clovis is taking on the financial obligation for the loans by using wastewater revenue until authorization happens.

Both agreements were accepted by 5-1 votes, with Ortega voting no.

Meetings watch:

The Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority met Wednesday at the Texico Fire Station:

• David Lansford made his resignation as authority chair official, and he was replaced as chair by Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield.

“I feel like right now is an excellent time to transfer the leadership from myself to Gayla,” Lansford said. “She has been very interested in getting as involved as she can into this complex project.”

Lansford submitted a letter of resignation last month. He had been acting as chair, though his fourth and final mayoral term expired in March.

Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega was retained as vice chair. He opened up the position to other members because he didn’t want to deny the opportunity to other interested members. Authority member Darrel Bostwick said the chair and vice chair should come from Clovis and Portales, the authority’s two biggest entities.

• Members received an update from Brock McEwen of engineering firm CH2MHill, which is working on the project’s 30 percent design.

He showed members a map laying out the approximate 180 miles of pipe and a short video of a flyover.

• The authority renewed project management contracts for 2008-09. The rates went unchanged for the upcoming year, Project Manager Scott Verhines said. The contracts were approved 5-1, with Ortega voting no because he had received no chance to negotiate the contracts.