Last week, a very good article appeared in the Tioga Tribune regarding the Western Area Water Supply.
The article, written by Brad Nygaard, asks point blank whether WAWS needs a life preserver (clearly a less aggressive word for the “bailout” term we always use).
HB 1020 just passed the House in a second vote with a vast majority of 78 to 13. Its first public hearing will be held in the Appropriations committee March 16. The bill restructures the debt held by the Western Area Water Supply Agency, WAWSA, or WAWS, that is supposed to provide clean, reliable water to people in five counties in the northwestern part of the state. However, Nygaard states that Steve Mortenson, president of the Independent Water Users Association, said in a Monday statement that the project is “overbuilt and over budget, with a business model that is flawed.” The Agency is able to keep low rates for its customers by selling water for industrial use–mainly hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Now that Bakken drilling has slowed substantially, the money from selling water just isn’t there. Bills are piling up, and the project needs life support.
Part of the problem with HB 1020 is that it requires the State Water Commission to pay loans on behalf of WAWS if the agency does not have the money to do so.
The article on its own is one of the best breakdowns of where the whole project stands today. One interesting tidbit in the article is the quote by one State Representative Bert Anderson (R-Crosby) who is also simultaneously the Mayor of Crosby, and who is also on the Board of Directors for the Western Area Water Supply Authority.
Anderson, is quoted in this article as saying:
None of us actually got to read the specifics with it.
Anderson said the details changed seven times in the week before the House vote.
That is a remarkable quote on several levels:
- As was documented on February 22nd when the vote happened, pretty much everyone on the House floor knew what was going on. 13 legislators voted against the Water Commission bill, the vast majority were opposing the placement of the Water (Royalty) Tax into the bill.
- They knew what was in the bill and they were willing to vote against it.
How could a legislator who is also a mayor and a board member of WAWS not know what was in the bill? And why was Republican leadership being so sneaky the week before the vote? As the vote works its way in the Senate, these issue must be addressed.
Please send a message to the Senate Appropriations Committee to remove this tax increase from HB 1020, as well as to stand firm against other tax and fee increases that may come their way.
For more information on WAWS, please visit the North Dakota Watchdog Network.