NRD votes to join coalition

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

CURTIS -- Although one board member warned that it was setting a dangerous precedent, the Middle Republican Natural Re-sources District voted Tuesday night to join a coalition with other NRDs, that will purchase bonds to buy surface water.

Board member Gayle Haag, along with Rob Spencer, voted against the resolution to form a coalition of the three NRDs in the Republican River Basin, called the Republican River Coalition.

The purpose of the coalition will be to purchase bonds to buy surface water rights from the irrigation districts of Frenchman Cambridge, Fenchman Valley and Riverside, and to distribute the funds to the irrigators.

The Upper Republican has already voted to join the coalition, and the lower will vote Thursday night, said Dan Smith, MRNRD general manager.

But if the MRNRD joins this coalition, it will make water right prices higher than they need to be, argued Haag, as once a price is set by the coalition to buy water, it will be hard to lower it in subsequent years.

"This will set the market price on water by what we agree to pay now," he said.

He was referring to surface water buyouts that the board later approved, that will pay the Frenchman Cambridge irrigation district $7.8 million, with irrigators receiving $360 per acre, Frenchman Valley for $640,000, at $80 per acre and Riverside for $126,000,at $63 per acre. Both Haag and Spencer voted against this agreement.

"This is just another layer of bureaucracy," he maintained. "Our irrigators have handled it pretty good so far." He pointed out that the MRNRD has worked hard using motoratums and regulations to keep water consumption down wasn't fair to irrigators who have cut their usage.

"We've done a lot -- now we're hammered with a tax," he said.

Bonds purchased by the coalition will be paid off with up to $10 per irrigated acre, also called occupation taxes and up to 10 cents per $100 on property taxes., levied by the NRD's in the Republican River Basin.

He also questioned whether there will be any limits on bonds the coalition can issue. What will stop the coalition from buying bonds year after year, he wondered.

MRNRD General Manager Dan Smith said "common sense" would dictate when bonds would be purchased He pointed out that it would have to be an unanimous decision among the three NRD"s in the coalition about when to buy bonds.

Each NRD will have one representative and one alternate on the coalition. Josh Friezen was chosen unanimously by fellow board members Tuesday night as their representative for the MRNRD, with Smith as alternate.

Several members of the public who attended the meeting expressed their concerns about water buyouts from the irrigation districts.

Claude Cappel of McCook asked whether CREP acres, acres that the state paid irrigators not to irrigate, would be included in the occupation taxes.

Smith replied that the initial position of the MRNRD was to exempt those acres, but that it would depend on what the county assessors have on their tax rolls, cross referenced with what the MRNRD have on their tax rolls.

Cappel also stated that the buyouts at Frenchman Cambridge came too late and that in Frenchman Valley, only 20 percent use the water compared to 80 percent who don't.

Rick McConville of Indianola also questioned the wisdom of paying $7.8 million for water buyouts from the Frenchman Cambridge and called it a waste of taxpayer money.

"Stop it tonight and don't approve it," he asked board members. "If we have the tax we'll never get rid of it."

The funding formula for paying back the bonds will be the Upper responsible for 44 percent, 30 for the Middle and 26 for the lower.

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