By Alisa Boswell
After months of debating the issue, Portales city councilors chose to deny the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority an easement of land for the Ute pipeline project.
Tuesday night’s city council meeting was the fourth time the issue was brought in front of Portales city councilors.
The issue of a pump station near Elida, which would carry water from Ute Lake to Elida, began when city officials realized they did not own the parcel of land the station would be built on. Dairy Farmers of America does.
City Attorney Randy Knudson said Tuesday that the city of Portales owns the land as of now, but a clause in Industrial Revenue Bonds (IRBs) gives DFA the ownership rights of the land — a fact city officials did not initially realize when entering a lease contract with the water authority regarding the land.
Another issue arose with the easement when the authority discovered Xcel Energy was planning to build power lines on the same land.
ENMWUA Executive Director Justin Howalt informed city councilors Tuesday night that he was informed by Xcel Energy that the pump station would not impact their infrastructure.
He also told councilors that he acquired a copy of the easement agreement in August from DFA, while Mayor Sharon King pointed out that Xcel Energy does not have an easement agreement with DFA as of right now.
Despite this news, city councilors still declined to approve the easement with city councilors Matt Hunton and Leo Lovett, saying they had concerns about investing in a project that they do not know will come to fruition.
“I’m just concerned with the timing, and I still am, not knowing when the pipeline and that pump station will actually ever be used,” Lovett said. “It just seems to me we’re trying to put the cart before the horse.”
Howalt and King both pointed out to councilors that the location near Elida was not the authority’s first choice for the pump station, and they relocated it there based on the suggestion of city Public Works Director John DeSha and former city Manager Tom Howell.
“We can’t be short-sighted on this project,” Howalt told councilors. “Large infrastructure projects like this are not built overnight; that just doesn’t happen. Considering the project as a whole, we’re a young project. We’re into this six years, and considering we’ve achieved $8 million from the federal government already at this point, that is a spectacular achievement for the authority. So they’ve come a long way over six years.”
Howalt told councilors that the pump station is to be built with $750,000 of funds ENMWUA already has.
However, the station would tie into Portales water lines and would “use some of Portales’ system that’s already there to go down to Elida,” according to ENMWUA Chair Gayla Brumfield.
“Instead of putting a whole system from our system, we were going to be able to use Portales’ system,” she said. “We were told working with the city of Portales that that was the direction to go, then we got funding for that.”
Knudson said the station tying into water lines is why the city has to approve it, but that’s part of the problem.
“That’s one of the issues is those details have never been fully flushed out or negotiated exactly what that relationship is going to consist of,” Knudson said.
“Expanding your wellfield — does that stuff need to occur? Absolutely. Is that the long-term solution for Portales? In my opinion, it is not,” Howalt told councilors. “The long-term solution is to have another supply of water, which is the Ute Reservoir pipeline project.”
Howalt said Wednesday that the decision of councilors to not approve the pump station easement meant the authority will not be building it there.
“Whether or not we will find a new location, we’ll just continue to work with the city of Portales on that,” he said.