Blanding City Council talks raw water sale, future of Justice Court

by David Boyle
News Director
Members of the Blanding City Council discussed a policy for raw water sales, the future of the town’s Justice Court, and saw an award given to the city recreation department at their latest meeting.
At their September 27 meeting members of the Blanding City Council discussed a policy for the sale of raw water.
Raw water is untreated, meaning minerals and bacteria are not removed from the water, since it is unsafe to drink raw water is sold at a cost lower than drinking water.
Discussion around raw water began in September of last year when the city approved its annual agreement with the Energy Fuels White Mesa Mill for the sale of 150-acre feet of water at $75 an acre-foot.
While the September 27 city staff report does note that the White Mesa Mill does not always use that full amount, the mill’s rate is much lower than what other institutional raw water users pay.
For example, several institutional organizations such as churches, the San Juan School District, and the city of Blanding pay 75 percent of the culinary rate for raw water; that rate follows the city’s tiered policies for culinary rates based on water availability each year.
While Institutional raw water users have a set rate Energy Fuels and the City Cemetary pay a much lower rate.
This year one of the San Juan School District raw water meter users paid $8,810 for 4.89 million gallons of raw water, while Energy Fuels paid $11,250 for 48.87 million gallons.
The .23 cents per gallon of raw water falls well below the national average range of .89 cents to 2.99 according to a staff report. However, employees at the mill say those comparisons aren’t necessarily apples to apples.
The original low rate for raw water sales to Energy Fuels was with the San Juan Water Conservancy District. When the City of Blanding purchased 500 acre-feet of rights from the conservancy district in 1987 and an additional 300 acre-feet of rights in 1997 the city also inherited the long-term agreement with the White Mesa Mill.
After the contract ended the city increased the rate to $75 an acre-foot for the 150 acre-feet sold annually to the mill to this day.
White Mesa Mill Manager Logan Shumway explained the original several-decade agreement between the conservancy district and the owners of the mill helped Recapture Reservoir to be created.
“The way it worked was (...) the owners of the mill were obligated to pay for 500 acre-feet a year and that was part of the funding. The way I understand they were like if we can secure a buyer for this we can make this whole dam, and this whole system happen.”
The staff report also points out that raw water purchased from Recapture Reservoir by the mill is different from other raw water purchases as the mill’s raw water is delivered from the reservoir  through a gravity-fed pipe that presents negligible maintenance costs to the city, in comparison the city maintains pipes that feed to other raw water users in city limits.
Additionally, the staff report notes that the revenue generated by raw water sales to the mill would not be collected otherwise.
Shumway noted that if the city ends its year with its full 800 acre-feet in Recapture, then the runoff the next year does not replenish that water, meaning unrealized water sales for the city.
“There’s a lot to understand here. I’ll just be candid about this, it’s really not a fair comparison to talk about this water next to it for a lot of reasons but we can work something out that I think works for everybody.”
One noted concern for Johnson is the precedent set. In the spring of 2022, the conservancy district purchased 10-acre feet of raw water from the city at the same rate as the mill, a sale that was met with concern from several concerned citizens.
Different policy options include setting a consistent commercial raw water policy and rate regardless of the source, another option would be a commercial raw water policy that differentiates between sources such as the 3rd or Recapture reservoirs. Another option would be a hybrid.
Members of city staff and the White Mesa Mill are open to exploring a hybrid option. 
Council asked for several policy options to view over the coming months, with the hope to have a policy adopted in February of 2023.
Members of the Blanding City Council also signaled their support for the continuation of the Blanding Justice Court in the midst of some turnover in the system.
Johnson reported to the city council that the city’s full-time court clerk Diane Bradford retired at the end of September. Additionally, Judge Hazelton is also retiring from Blanding City Justice Court at the end of the year. Judge Hazelton’s retirement will just be in Blanding as he will continue his other judgeships in the county.
With turnover in the Blanding Justice Court, the city council reviewed the options of hiring a new judge or dissolving the court.
Johnson outlined that the court has generally brought in a net revenue between $10,000 and $30,000 although last year was an exception with increased attorney fees, although staff reports the issue has been addressed and they are back on track for positive income for the year.
Retaining the court would continue to provide the convenience of court for residents in Blanding. If the court were dissolved the costs of maintenance would also go away, but eventually reestablishing the court would be very unlikely.
Justice Court Judge terms are for six-years, meaning once the city hires the judge, dissolution of the court would not release the city of obligation to pay the judge through their term.
Presenting at the meeting was Justice Court Administrator for Utah Jim Peters. Peters explained the process for hiring a new judge for the court and the accompanying timeline of six-to-eight months. During that time Judge Hazleton indicated he would provide coverage for the court during that time.
Peters explained the qualifications for the judgeship include being a US Citizen 25-years of age, a Utah resident for three years, a resident of San Juan County or an adjacent county for at least six months, and a high school degree or GED.
After 15-45 days of advertisement, depending on responses, a nomination committee made up of two Blanding council appointees, a person from the local bar association, a representative of San Juan County, and a representative from local governments will provide 3-5 names for nomination.
After a public comment period, a recommendation is made to the council for their approval. Following approval, a judge’s orientation is required by the state. Those are offered in January and April of 2023.
Council signaled their support for continuing to maintain the Justice Court in Blanding.
At the meeting, Blanding City’s recreation department was recognized with a Local Government Trusts Award.
Mike Stagg presented the award, Stagg is a risk manager for Blanding’s Insurance company Local Governments Trust.
Stagg reported that each year they do site inspections to ensure safety, especially at municipal swimming pools as they have a large liability.
Stagg reports their visits looks at operations at the facility, lifeguard training, water quality, and other items to ensure safety. 
The organization presented its Silver award to the Blanding City Wellness Center based on aggregated health and safety scores across several measures.
Stagg added that while the city won the award in 2021, they also saw an increase in scores by 10-percent from last year.
“Which was the largest scale increase we saw (across 32 entities). So it’s really a testament to what (Recreation Director) David (Palmer) has done. Him and his staff and the lifeguards there were able to improve so many things and just make it so much better for the public to be there.”
Stagg also reported the city Wellness Center had zero claims made against them in the past five years.
City council also approved a budgeted sales contract to update their meter collection system.
The updated system communicates meter readings digitally to city staff rather than requiring in-person visits to meters. The system also allows for alerts for high usage which can allow the city and meter users to discover leaks much faster than previously.

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