Darrell Berkheimer: Why NID actions are drawing such unusual attention
January 19, 2018
I am having considerable problems getting my head around some of the many issues I have been told and read regarding Nevada Irrigation District and its board of directors.
First came the issues of transparency and openness regarding the NID board's deliberations and decisions. I was quite surprised when I saw, in print, that one of the board members questioned why the voters need to be informed on board discussions.
But since that comment, maybe board members are realizing that most often it is to their advantage to have a well-informed electorate — rather than angry voters believing that the board is hiding things.
Then next, I was informed that the NID board has the power to vote to build a dam without a need to have that vote approved by the majority of voters within the district.
... no wonder the NID board member elections have drawn much more attention, and more candidates, than usual.
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I can understand the board having the power to raise rates as needed to cover escalating costs — without voter approval. But isn't it unusual for a major capital improvement, such as something as big as a dam, to not have to go before the voters for approval?
As a result of asking that question, however, I have been advised that NID taxpayers could be voting on the project if a bond issue is needed to finance the dam. And with recent, informal cost estimates, it appears a bond issue would be necessary. But NID could find private investors willing to finance the bonds rather than the taxpayers.
I also noted that some residents within NID are not allowed to vote for board members if they receive their water from either the city of Grass Valley or Nevada City.
That ruling or interpretation apparently is based on the fact that both Grass Valley and Nevada City "purchase NID water at wholesale prices, and in turn sell that water to residential and commercial customers. Thus NID can say 'It's not our water.'" That interpretation was explained by Bruce Herring, an announced candidate to represent one of the five NID divisions. He added, "These citizens (referring to those served with water by the two cities) can lend support or financial assistance to any candidate in any division, but cannot vote."
Let's back up a bit on that issue, and examine how the irrigation district was formed. Wasn't it voted into existence by an election open to all of the voters living within the district's boundaries? In my many years of news media work, citizens living within a service district have retained the right to vote on who will represent them on a district board.
But I have been advised that only those residents within the district who pay the annual NID tax are allowed to vote for NID board members. And that even includes residents within the district who do not receive NID water — because they have their own wells.
One NID taxpayer suggested the issue is a simple one. If you pay the NID tax, you get to vote for a board member. If you don't pay the tax, you don't get to vote.
That, in turn, prompts me to raise the question of whether those city residents still are taxed, indirectly, both through the taxes they pay to the cities and through the water rates paid when billed by NID? Also, won't their water be affected by what NID does?
A couple city residents have asked: "If I pay for my water directly to NID, and if I live within the NID district, why can't I vote for an NID board member?"
To that question, I wonder: Did those city residents realize they were relinquishing their right to vote for NID board members when the cities contracted to buy NID water at wholesale rates?
I also noticed issues that NID board members apparently wish to ignore in their pushing full steam ahead to build the Centennial Dam. Among them are the issues of putting the cart before the horse.
I agree with NID board member Nick Wilcox that the very first issue to be decided is whether the dam site is technologically safe. And the result of such determination should be made public immediately.
I realize the safety of the dam site is one of the issues that must be resolved as part of the Environmental Impact Statement. But shouldn't that issue be established before beginning the expense of the complete EIS report — the EIR? After all, wouldn't the need for an EIR be a moot issue if the dam site was discovered to be geologically unsafe?
But an even bigger issue of putting the cart before the horse is the spending of millions of dollars to buy properties in the area of the proposed dam. Some voters are raising the question: Out of which fund was that money taken to purchase those properties?
And shouldn't such actions as the buying of properties be delayed until the dam project becomes a reality? Isn't it possible the dam never will become a reality, just as the once proposed Auburn Dam failed to become a reality?
So that money might have been spent on property that won't be needed. Meanwhile, property owners in the area are put in a bind — wondering if they should be selling their property, and whether they can get a decent price if they choose to sell. I'm also wondering if those issues could result in NID money wasted in defense of a civil suit.
In addition, the NID board has failed to respond to specific questions regarding total expenses and, most especially, how the project would be financed — issues raised in an Other Voices column last month by Peter Van Zant.
No wonder area citizens are disgusted with NID board actions. And no wonder the NID board member elections have drawn much more attention, and more candidates, than usual.
Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He is the author of five books available through Amazon. Contact him at email@example.com.