by Mayor Marc Beitia
A tough decision. Sometimes good things happen to good people. Life ain’t fair. The ugly truth. All clichés, yes, but clichés because often they are indeed true to the circumstance. It seemed like last week one cliché just led to the next. Be it the Downtown Project’s impact on business, more dead fish and now birds, the inspiring grand opening of the Skate Park and something equally inspiring, or another good neighbor. I knew they would come; it was just a matter of time.
Has the Downtown Project been difficult for business, yes it has. It has been difficult for everyone, with the exception of my six-year-old granddaughter, Leila, and her generation. Three weeks ago, Pete Ramsey, owner of High Desert Laundry, made a financial request of the city council to have his water and sewer bill reduced because of the project’s impact on his business. This past week the council deliberated and made a tough decision. The laundry is required to pay a water and sewer fee that is about six times that of a typical household because of the normal amount of water and sewer they use. But, this summer has been anything but normal for businesses downtown. In conversations with our business owners I have heard losses in revenues ranging from 10 percent to 90 percent; which was stated to be the case of High Desert Laundry. The council has heard the same. Not unlike the business owners, each of us struggles with that reality. The Downtown Project was never intended to negatively affect businesses; it was done out of long-term necessities and as a benefit to the community. I will say point blank that you have a damn good city council and they do their very best day in and day out to do right by each of you and this community. That is why their decision was so difficult. In the absence of councilmember Pankratz, the council voted unanimously to change the laundry’s rate to a Business II for water and sewer for the period of July through November, the duration of the project. This comes to about $1,000 savings to the business.
Why? Not because we have extra money stashed away for such an occasion, I can assure you. The money will come from the water and wastewater capital improvement fund. It is money each of us has paid to the city for these two services. Unlike electrical power that every business depends on, these water and sewer rates are unique to this business. The city has a small degree of latitude in regards to how to charge the laundry. Their decision was based I think on two premises: One, they could lawfully pass a resolution to change one business’ fees for a short period of time as it is a business dependent on the services provided by those fees. Two, they obviously believed it was the right thing to do. Can they make these or similar compensations to other businesses? I don’t think so, as the laundry is the only business of this type within the project’s scope.
A comment was made during the debate of the matter as to the benefit of the downtown project. My answer is this, fire suppression. If a business or businesses – they are right next to each other on Idaho Street – burned to the ground because of inadequate water flows delivered by pipes that are 50 years old and only four inches in diameter would the inconvenience of the project be worth it then? The new water lines guarantee adequate fire suppression capabilities well into the future, and they are a part of the project that no one will ever see.
Things on Idaho and Fort Hall are taking shape. Sidewalks, driveways and pavement are being placed. As of Saturday morning, as I write this, the new waterline on Idaho has yet to pass its chloroform bacterial test, after six attempts. Apparently there is a segment of old isolated water somewhere within the system that cannot be flushed out or purified with chlorine and it is causing a serious delay in the installation of private water services.
Perseverance will prevail, I have no doubt. With luck the 100 block of Idaho and the block of Fort Hall between Idaho and Harrison will be open shortly after this column is published. The new traffic cameras should be installed at Fort Hall and Idaho as well. The entire installation of the cameras may take a few days so the lights may be on a timer initially, I apologize for any seemingly long delays that may occur prior to the cameras being fully operational. Roosevelt and Tyhee will be next; and as I said last week, DePatco intends to get after it as they want to be done with paving within a month.
Sometimes good things happen to good people. This was the case when well over 100 kids and nearly as many adults showed up to the Grand Opening of the new Skate Park. I took particular pleasure in recognizing and thanking the efforts of former Mayor Amy Manning, Marcy Crumley, Lisa Leyshon, and Parks and Recreation Superintendent Jeremy Peirsol. Each of these people is largely responsible for this gift to the youth of the city and region. The word “awesome” is paled by these four and as such I would like to recognize each of them as this week’s “Good Neighbor.” I would also like to thank Donny Smith of Spohn Ranch who helped out all day last Thursday in preparation for the opening and who donated several sets of wheels and DC Skate Shoes. Another special thank you to Brad Beech of the 628 Skate Shop who donated t-shirts and stickers for the grand opening raffle and who was consulted extensively in the design of our park. You guys rock!
These next thoughts I leave to the publisher’s discretion as I may start to sound a little preachy, as my Sally calls it. As early as last May at a meeting in Jackson Hole, again in June in a meeting with Water District One’s Committee of Nine, and yet again in July to a group of recreationalists and farmers in American Falls, the Bureau of Reclamation spokespersons assured Idaho Fish and Game, the Department of Environmental Quality and sportsmen that water levels in American Falls Reservoir would stay above the 60,000 acre foot (AF) level to meet water quality standards and help prevent damage to the American Falls fisheries in the reservoir and river below. “The pain would be shared,” between Idaho and Wyoming storage was a statement made by Jerrold D. Gregg, Area Manager from Boise, at the May 16 Jackson meeting. Apparently “equally” was not a part of the sharing plan. Jackson cried “Uncle” in early June and again in August and the cry got results from the BOR. An equitable sharing and delivery of a small amount of water from Jackson Lake downstream to American Falls Reservoir as promised could have alleviated this entire mess, yet BOR chose to retain extra water at Jackson for of the benefit of Wyoming recreational interests at the expense of Idaho’s. Life ain’t fair, but according to BOR Commissioner Mike Connor, but it should be.
Commissioner Mike Connor makes five distinct points in a recent webcast on the BOR website; at least two are relevant to this discussion. “While our mission has evolved I generally put our priorities in five categories. The first is our infrastructure. Secondary is Water Smart. It’s our program to expand the supply of water in the west and to meet our future challenges and to avoid conflicts where we can. A third area is ecosystem restoration. We’ve had quite a discussion over time about whether this is part of our core mission or not. It is. It’s critical if we’re going to continue to supply water and power with the reliability that we’ve historically had. So we’re going to continue to invest in ecosystem restoration. A fourth area is strengthening tribal nations. A fifth and final area that we have is renewable energy.”
So my questions beg; why create conflict where none need exist, and why continue to degrade an ecological community, the American Falls Reservoir and river below, when following a specified plan would prevent it. I suppose the ugly truth is because the squeaky wheel often gets the grease; the billion dollar recreational economy in Jackson apparently is squeaky as hell, it must be really irritating to be around when not properly maintained.
According to DEQ data, water quality began to diminish when water levels in the reservoir dropped below 120,000 AF this year. On September 19th, last week, water levels fell to 54,681 AF while Jackson reservoir remained at 208,758 AF. More fish are being entrained through the dam and many subsequently killed by the turbines. According to Fish and Game Biologist Dave Tuescher, “The fishery in the reservoir is all but lost and next year the reservoir will essentially be starting from square one, with the river below substantially damaged.” We have to keep starting over every drought cycle while Jackson just continues on its merry way to making more money. The mission of the Bureau of Reclamation is to manage, develop, and protect water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American public. Apparently the Wyoming environment and economy is the only part of America and the American public that is of interest in this issue. As it is, and as it has historically been, the two fisheries at American Falls and our recreational economy are left sucking mud and, as my grandfather was fond of saying, the proverbial hind teat.
The other thing that I fail to understand is why Idaho Power continues to buy 3,000 pounds of fish to stock in the reservoir annually as a part of the mitigation obligations for the American Falls Dam and power plant when they are content to see that investment sliced and diced through their own turbines to generate a disproportionately small amount of electricity when the American Falls Reservoir level falls below 100,000 AF. Fish actually start to be entrained at a slightly higher level, but below this level it starts to get severely noticeable, like two weeks ago when levels fell below 60,000 AF. These conditions occur during years of extreme drought and last for one to two months at the end of the irrigation season, and before the reservoir begins to refill. Idaho Power could help solve at least part of the problem by shutting their turbines down; to prevent the killing of entrained fish, for a relatively short period of time prior to the end of the irrigation season in years of extreme drought and low reservoir levels. Their intentions are good but the execution of the plan seems self-damaging in the purview of public relations and their cost to benefit ratios for the American Falls power plant.
Until next week…