PAWSD looks at eminent domain


Staff Writer

The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) regular board meeting Tuesday was filled with talk about the authorization to bid on the water line extending to district two.

Residents from Archuleta County approached the Board of Directors to express interests and concerns dealing with the recent eminent domain controversy involving the Town of Pagosa Springs and the pipeline, as well as clarifying any information between the town’s sewer line and PAWSD water line.

“I am dismayed that PAWSD is involved in the eminent domain case,” one concerned audience member said.

“PAWSD is not,” chairman Allen Bunch responded.

When asked why PAWSD board members considered themselves to not be involved in the case, Bunch explained the reason was because, “It is not our issue.”

Not all board members, however, felt that PAWSD was not involved.

“I am going to say that I don’t agree and that we are principally involved,” said director Glenn Walsh, “We are making available a fourteen million dollar treatment facility that has essentially no debt service, and I don’t want to re-litigate that question because I think there were some good aspects to what we did.”

Some of the board members expressed concerns with the their involvement or lack of involvement in the eminent domain case.

“I just want to make sure that it is clear cut that if they (the town) proceeds with eminent domain and anything happens in the construction and there is a civil suit, that they are going to shoulder that because we aren’t OK’ing that eminent domain, we are just giving them (the property owners) a choice,” Walsh said.

“The IGA specifically says that the town will take care of their easements and we will take care of ours,” said district project manager Gregg Mayo.

“It would be nice to get that backed up from a lawyer,” Walsh said.

“What I heard at the Friday meeting is that PAWSD is not involved with the action, eminent domain action, because PAWSD may choose to run their freshwater, treated water line, through a different route,” said an unidentified audience member, “Now the question of whether PAWSD is involved in the sewer line. I think some people have raised some questions about your involvement because of your status in that. I’ll just leave it at that.”

Other board members expressed concern for the ratepayers.

“We don’t do alignments studies, we don’t study this stuff, we just throw it on as agenda items and just roll with it,” said Mike Church, “To the gentleman over here who is worried about his water fees going up (speaking about a man who spoke during the public comment session concerning rate studies), when you spend money full blown on a project, before you even have the money for the easements, that’s not being as responsible as we could for the customer.”

Vega stated that neither of the line projects would result in an increase to the ratepayers, and that the board is not incurring any new revenue debt because of the projects.

“Well, that’s great,” Church said, “and we have reserved funds that we can’t use because you’re running all willy-nilly on all of these capital improvement projects and all of these things that we want to do, so we pay no debt down, and we don’t consider that. We just spend every damn crumb in the cupboard and we just pound the customer with no growth. We have over capacity for sewage treatments, we have over capacity for water treatment, and we are just building stuff and there is no relief to the customer.”

After public comment, the board transitioned into an agenda item focusing on reauthorization of the bid for a 12-inch water line to district two.

The main focus on the subject of the water line was the issue with easements and where the water line was going to be placed.

“I don’t believe that easements are an issue with the water line,” said Burt Adams. “We don’t have to go through Graham’s property, so why are we saying something that is not true?”

“Well, the design plans that I have show it going through Graham’s property,” Church said.

“Well, yeah, that was based on the original thing, but if you had been at the meeting on Friday, you would have seen that we have a very obvious option to that at no additional cost,” Vega said.

Walsh noted that the board had not approved the water line to run on an alternate alignment, and he felt the board was not kept apprised of easement negotiations regarding the Quintana property.

“I want to know what he said. Give me the straight story,” Walsh said. “If the property owners says, ‘I want money,’ then tell me they want money, if they say they want taps for their development, tell me that they want taps, don’t spin it to me. Give me the project that we are actually going to build and we will vote on it.”

Later, Walsh continued, “If the Quintanas want to give us access to their property so we can avoid eminent domain (on the Graham’s property), that’s great, but if we want to bid on alignments that this board didn’t approve ... every change, we are told, should come to this board, and we have to have confidence in that.”

“I have always said with relation to the Quintanas is that they will not allow a sewer line to go through their property,” said Mayo. “That is the statement that I have made and that is the statement that I will stick by. We do have an existing waterline easement that will allow us to do that (go between the Quintana and Graham properties). The difference in the pipe placement is the distance in between the two of us (about ten feet). The bidding price is the same. It has no bearing on any thing. That is an existing easement since June twentieth of 1994. They will not allow a sewer line and that is the way I said it.”

“There is no point in stirring the pot here and accusing people of misrepresentation, because that hasn’t happened,” said Adams.

At this time, there has not been any contact between PAWSD and the Quintanas. PAWSD board members are working on a formal written request to visit the property.

“I would only hope that you would trust us in the future that we follow the operating procedures, and if someone deviates from it, then we have recourse and I can address that with the employee,” said district manager Ed Winton.

“That would be wonderful,” said Walsh, “And I know this may not be the time to bring it up, but this is the chairman’s call, but at some point, and I don’t want to just bring it up in other business, but we should look in to board policy that no PAWSD employees and no PAWSD agents will discuss the idea of eminent domain with any customer without specific board approval.”

“That is probably an item for another agenda,” replied Bunch.

At the conclusion of the agenda item, no motion was made, therefore a vote did not happen.

Water loss report

For the month of July, PAWSD produced 65.486 million gallons of water. Out of that, 46.880 million gallons was sold, with a remaining 18.260 million gallons of unbilled water.

Out of the 18.260 million gallons of unbilled water, only .413 million gallons are accounted for, from breaks, hydrant flushing and meter change-outs. The amount of unaccounted water loss amounts to 17.847 million gallons, or 27 percent.

The amount of gallons lost a day equals 575,710 gallons.

It was suggested during the public comment that a census of the district should be completed in order to discover the amount of legal taps — a potential culprit.

The board responded by explaining that the magnitude of the amount of illegal taps that it would take to make up the unaccounted water loss, including water theft, and apparent losses would be exponential.

“There may be a few illegal water taps out there, but this is not the south Bronx and i would be staggered if it was more than half of one percent of our problem.” Walsh said.

The public responded by explaining that the census was very inexpensive and, while there was only a small chance of a hit, it was economically feasible. The board noted it would take it in to consideration.