Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By David Grieder
Staff writer 

Water authority condemns land for pipeline


December 27, 2017

CLOVIS — Board members of the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority on Thursday unanimously condemned a section of land southwest of Clovis.

The action allows officials to continue on schedule with construction and development of a phase of the Ute Water Project, board members said.

The condemnation — an assertion of eminent domain rights — follows two years of attempted negotiations with the property owners of a tract of land on a Curry County subdivision, ENMWUA attorney Dave Richards said.

Engineers sought an easement of about four acres of the 21-acre tract south of the intersection of West Grand Avenue and South Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which appraisers valued at $4,350. That sum will be deposited with the court when condemnation proceedings commence.

The property’s owners, Luis Nunez and Jose Luis Gonzales, were contacted repeatedly since January 2016 through letters, phone calls and visits, Richards said. In June, they said they wanted more time to think about the appraisal offer and Nunez repeated that request this week.

Efforts by The News on Wednesday and Thursday to reach Nunez and Gonzales were unsuccessful. They did not attend Thursday’s meeting.

“Mr. Nunez still has asked for more time, after two years, and indicates that he is busy,” Richards said. “The bottom line is that we have not been able to obtain the easement. ... It is imperative that we obtain the rights to go on that property.”

The six board members (absenting Portales Mayor Sharon King) at Thursday’s meeting approved the condemnation request following Richards’ presentation. After notice of the condemnation suit is served to Nunez and Gonzales, a hearing to give ENMWUA authority to enter the property can be scheduled within 20 days. That gives the authority a chance to have the easement in hand when they seek additional pipeline funding in the new year.

“The plan is to bid a section or a part of the pipeline in the spring, and of course you need the easement before you construct anything,” Richards said after the meeting. “It’s a little bit like convincing your banker that you’re ready to go.”

The Ute Water Project — whose ultimate goal is to establish a pipeline between the Ute Reservoir in Quay County and several communities in eastern New Mexico — was federally authorized in 2009, with ENMWUA established the next year. Included in that designation are the powers of eminent domain.

“There are essentially two issues in a condemnation — is there a public project, and how much money is required to reasonably compensate the property owner?” Richards said. “Whether it’s the city, county, public service company — whoever’s doing the condemnation, if they convince a judge that it is a public project, then the judge will say ‘I am going to allow you to go ahead with the project,’ and we’ll resolve the compensation issue later. So that’s what I anticipate.”

Thursday’s condemnation approval is the more recent of two pending eminent domain cases between ENMWUA and private landowners. In the spring, the authority filed a lawsuit against Philip Chavez and his co-owner father for access to their property on the west side of Clovis. As with Nunez and Gonzales, the case came only after the failure of multiple efforts to agree on an easement appraisal.

Richards said Thursday the suit against Chavez was scheduled for a jury trial at the end of next month.

Chavez declined Wednesday to comment on the proceedings.

Also at Thursday’s meeting:

• Board members unanimously approved two resolutions “authorizing the execution and delivery” of grant and loan agreements with the New Mexico Finance Authority.

Closing on those agreements is expected early in the new year, Richards said after the meeting. Between the two, the agreements amount to more than $2.8 million in grants and more than $300,000 in zero-interest loans.

• ENMWUA federal lobbyist John Ryan reported on meetings with committees last week in the Capitol, noting the authority was guaranteed $1.87 million in fiscal year 2018 and might compete with five other rural water projects for portions of a $40 million pool.

• Board members reported no action following a brief executive session on limited personnel matters.

• ENMWUA Interim Executive Director Maggie Chapman said the bank balance for the authority was $5.3 million and that a recent state audit reported, unofficially, no findings.


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