Discussions continued at the county commission meeting on Aug. 13 concerning the Pioche Public Utilities (PPU) infrastructure plan.
Town board members have expressed their ongoing concerns that the current status of PPU and the repairs needed are greater than the manpower, resources, and expertise PPU has.
A survey taken by the board last spring, asking residents of Pioche if the utility should be turned over to Lincoln County Power District, was rejected in favor of keeping it under local control.
Commission chair Paul Donohue said the board still does not have all the answers it wants on the controversial subject, so it asked the Pioche Town Board to appear before the commissioners “and have a talk.”
Member Phyllis Robistow said the survey was sent to “505 account numbers that take PPU services. We received 242 of them back [47.9 percent]. Earlier, we held several meetings to discuss the PPU problems with the community and quite a few came, but usually it was the same people each time.”
She said even though only a small cross-section of the community came to the meetings, “they did ask intelligent questions and brought up good, intelligent things to think about.”
Robistow said the idea of a survey was suggested last fall as to what the people of the community thought should be done to improve and maintain the otherwise deteriorating PPU system.
She said of the 242 surveys that were returned, 157 asked that Pioche retain control of power, sewer, and water; 55 asked that the electricity be transferred to Lincoln County Power, but keep the water and sewer; and 30 asked to have the water and sewer transferred, but keep the electricity.”
The board leadership said they want to go with the majority vote, but are keenly award PPU is facing a “lack of serious financial, equipment, proper certifications, and staffing by which to facilitate the needed job at hand.”
Robistow said, after looking at all the factors, including time and cost estimates for upgrading and/or rebuilding the system, “If we find that we can’t do it, we need to admit it and ask LCPD to take it over. If ballot measure 3 were to pass in November, PPU couldn’t handle it.”
Town board chair Tom Brown said he felt “the people of Pioche don’t fully realize what a monumental job this would be to rebuild the system and pay for it ourselves. It would likely be much more difficult and more expensive for us to hire outside contractors.”
He added, “The power district has the people, the equipment, and the knowledge to repair the system, whereas the town board always has to go to an outside engineer, and everything we do costs a lot of money.”
Dave Luttrell, general manager of Lincoln County Power District (LCPD), noted that whether PPU undertakes to rebuild the system, or turns it over to LCPD, either way it is going to take about 10 years. “The amount of deterioration within the system has become extreme. The 2009 engineering study did not address those issues,” meaning costs now will be considerably higher than 2009 estimates.
Others in the meeting spoke regarding their own feelings that PPU should be turned over to LCPD.
But Luttrell emphasized that “this is not a fix that can happen overnight. Whoever does it will be facing a long task, with the need of a lot of effort and a lot of money upfront. It is a multi-year problem.”
In July, the commissioner board approved a new engineering study of the system, because things have changed considerably since the last study in 2009.
Pioche resident Pat Kelley said, “Nothing was done since that study because PPU doesn’t have the expertise to do it. And we can’t just keep raising the rates for customers in attempts to raise money. We need to put it over to somebody that can take care of it and has the resources, because we don’t have the manpower, equipment, or the knowledge.”
Donohue emphasized his feeling that the town board and the residents need to continue to seek to work together to come up with the right decisions. “We must do something,” he said.
Commissioners did not take action on the issue, deciding to wait to compare the results of the new study, regarding what needs to be done and the length of time and costs, with what LCPD might be able to do
An engineer arrived in Pioche Aug. 20 to begin a study of the system.