Fraser to continue talks with Byers Peak for out-of-town water
March 10, 2014
FRASER—While the Fraser Board of Trustees shelved an ordinance and a resolution concerning out-of-town water service, board members also sparred with a community member regarding an agreement to provide water and wastewater service to Byers Peak Ranch.
No agreement has been approved by either the town board or the developer of Byers Peak Ranch, though a representative of the developer, Jack Bestall, commented that they were willing to continue discussions with the town to work toward using the town’s water and wastewater system for the proposed development despite not yet coming to terms on an agreement.
The town chose to shelve the ordinance and resolution until their March 26 regular meeting to allow for more consideration of the documents.
The town was considering adopting the ordinances as an emergency ordinance, something that raised concerns for some community members, to allow for fast-tracking the out-of-town water and wastewater service agreement with Byers Peak Properties, though chose not to as the town and Byers Peak Properties have not yet come to terms on an agreement.
“Adopting an emergency ordinance isn’t necessary at this point,” said Fraser Town Manager Jeff Durbin during the meeting. “I think there has been some debate as to whether that is a valid exercise under this authority, I believe it is, but regardless of that there is not an agreement that I anticipate being approved at this time.”
As discussion of the ordinance began, Mayor Peggy Smith made a statement regarding not only the out-of-town water and wastewater agreement, but also the Byers Peak Ranch development as a whole and the needs of the town.
“We have a problem, we’ve known we have a problem for sometime,” Smith said. “The problem is lack of augmentation storage, it’s not lack of water rights. We have sufficient water rights, our biggest problem is preserving the water rights that we do have.” Smith was referring to water rights the town has that cannot be used until storage facilities are built to augment that water.
In both the town’s and the developer’s view, the agreement to provide out-of-town water and wastewater service to the proposed Byers Peak development holds a number of significant benefits for the town, including allowing the town to add users to the system, creating more revenue for the town. The agreement also provides for the developer to dedicate a parcel of land, at no cost to the town, for water augmentation storage, something the town says it needs to protect resident’s access to water if senior water rights holders downstream were to place a call for water.
“The board would be irresponsible to not work on this and we have made it a priority,” Smith said. “We have spent way more time than we probably should have because it has been a priority.”
“We have done our homework, we have had valuable help from numerous consultants. We have spent a tremendous amount of money,” Smith said. “We are listening to the community. We know not everyone in this community is going to agree with this but we feel like it is our responsibility as community leaders to move forward.”
While the land for an augmentation pond would be provided to the town, the town would still have to raise the funds to construct the augmentation pond, something the town is beginning to raise funds for by charging an extra fee to some of its water users. Construction costs of the augmentation pond were the responsibility of the developer in the annexation agreement, but annexation was voted down by Fraser voters in November.
“We have all worked hard and tirelessly and we really would like to see something happen with Byers Peak,” Smith said. “At this point, unfortunately the annexation failed, which was a huge loss to this community. We probably will never get a deal as good as the deal we had but we are committed to finding some common ground so that we can hopefully move forward with this developer and provide some kind of out-of-town water and sewer service.”
Despite the ongoing negotiations for the out-of-town water and wastewater service agreement, Jane Mather, who spearheaded the group that petitioned the board’s approval of the annexation agreement, questioned a number of the stipulations in the agreements that were rejected by both the town and the developer.
Board members voiced frustrations with Mather as she questioned a number of the rejected clauses in the agreements.
Mather voiced concerns regarding the town’s statements that the town has sufficient water rights. “We still have not received an explanation from the town for why we have sufficient water,” Mather said.
Trustee Vesta Shapiro compared revealing the town’s water rights to showing someone your poker hand.
“We are working in the best interests for the town,” said Trustee Steve Sumrall. “You act like this is subterfuge.”
Clark Lipscomb, the developer of Byers Peak Properties, also addressed Mather during the meeting.
“The core issue here, Jane, is solidifying the senior (water) rights that the town has that are directly linked to land that we own so that the town’s blue zone water system, the old town system is protected against calls on the upper Fraser River, that’s going to take time to do, it takes a lot of money to build. And in the interim we have offered a lease of stored water that I have already built at great expense to protect the towns blue zone system against a call,” Lipscomb said.
Durbin commented that if a deal were struck to provide out-of-town water to Byers Peak Ranch it potentially could reduce the additional fee being placed on Old Town water users in order to construct augmentation storage for the town. The town would have to review the cost to construct the augmentation ponds in the future and a future board would have to decide whether to raise the rates further in order to complete the project.
The town will address the ordinance and resolution pertaining to out-of-town water and wastewater service during their March 26 meeting and will also continue discussion regarding providing out-of-town water and sewer service to Byers Peak Ranch.
Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334