Questions about water and airport dominate Blanding City Council meeting
Blanding City Council discussed airport policy, a sale of water, and approved a bid to repair hail damage at their latest meeting.
At their April 26 meeting members of the Blanding City Council heard from six community members regarding a draft policy for the city airport.
Discussions regarding the creation of a policy for use at the airport including rates and lease agreements have been ongoing for weeks.
While the community that utilizes the Blanding Airport has generally been amenable to implementing policies, there has been push-back regarding increasing rates at the airport.
At the latest meeting city council directed staff to form an airport advisory committee to assist in the creation of policies and rates for the airport.
Members of a committee would include a member of the city council as well as representation from pilots and businesses who operate out of the airport.
Among those businesses is Guardian Flight. Regional manager Chris Ewald shared his approval of creating an advisory committee. Ewald pointed to a state-commissioned study that reported the airport generates $11.1 million in annual economic activity.
“I think our airport is big enough and has a big enough economic impact that we need to organize an advisory board.”
Ewald was not opposed to a small increase in hangar rates, but thought too many other fees could make the airport unattractive to pilots. Ewald recommended the city increase revenue through the airport by aggressively pursuing grants.
Hangar fees are currently $100 a month at the airport.
After 30-40 hours of conversations with airport managers and comparing rates to 17 other airports City Manager David Johnson had proposed an increase over several years to somewhere between $200 to $300 a month.
Other possible revenue sources included introducing tie-down, parking fees, and fines for planes illegally parked.
The City Fixed Base Operator, Freedom Fuels, recommended parking violation fines to the city, with an option to waive certain fees if pilots purchased fuel. Freedom Fuels also expressed its desire to keep hangar fees as low as justified.
Johnson echoed a statement made in public comment saying that pilots are looking for the nicest and cheapest places to land. “Well I can say we’re the cheapest, and as many other comments made we’re definitely not the nicest. The maintenance issues have been because of a lack of funds.”
Johnson noted that the roughly $42,000 a year generated for the city at the airport did not cover the hours of payroll for Airport Manager Bret Hosler who also wears the Community Development hat. Johnson also noted the city street department fills potholes at the airport.
“We’re taking money from other general funds to help supplement needs.”
The money generated by the airport currently goes into the general fund which maintenance is paid out of, city staff said they would look into setting up an airport revenue account.
Regardless, increasing airport rates will wait as the city explores how to establish an airport advisory committee to aid in policy and fee discussions.
Blanding City Council also received a report and held a discussion regarding the city's recent sale of raw water to the San Juan Water Conservancy District.
At the meeting, four community members questioned decisions made by city staff to approve a sale of 10 acre-feet or 3.258 million gallons of water at $75 per acre-foot to the San Juan Water Conservancy District.
Kelly Laws contended the city should not be selling raw water. “You can not make enough money off of selling that raw water to compensate for what the citizens of Blanding have paid you in culinary rates. That was a total misappropriation of water and somebody ought to be held accountable for it, it's a disgrace.”
Johnson offered answers to two questions: why is water allowed to be sold without city council approval, and what is the reasoning of this sale.
Historical precedence of allowing city staff to sign-off on water sales and purchases was given as the reason as to why the sale was allowed to happen. In an email report City Engineer Terry Ekker shared that in good water years the city has historically leased irrigation shares for agricultural use if the city didn’t need the water that year and had no excess storage to keep it.
Another historical example is the city's agreement with Energy Fuel’s White Mesa Mill.
In September 2021 the council approved an annual agreement to sell 150 acre-feet or 49 million gallons of raw water to Energy Fuel’s White Mesa Mill at a cost of $75 an acre foot or $11,250 annually.
This was the first time the agreement had been approved by the council as it historically had been signed off between city staff and the mill.
Johnson explained while the city has a tiered system for culinary water based on use and supply, the city does not have a policy on water sales outside of city limits.
“Because we don’t have a policy in place and we have a precedence of not going before the council to approve that we didn’t really have grounds to say no if we have some capacity.”
Plans to draft a policy for rates and approval of raw water sales have been in the works since September.
Discussions about the policy included establishing a consistent price for anyone interested in purchasing raw water and also likely introducing a tiered structure of rates based on drought conditions.
The question as to why city staff approved the sale of raw water during a dry year to the conservancy district was also discussed at the meeting.
Members of the public asked why the city had turned down an opportunity to purchase water from Blanding Irrigation company while also approving the sale of water to the Conservation District in a year when residents are being charged an Orange rate three out of four tiers.
A proposed sale of water at $300 an acre-feet from the Blanding Irrigation Company was turned down by city staff with Johnson reporting that if the company were to bring the level down to the cost for the city to pump their water (an estimated $50-$55 per acre foot) the city would consider purchasing some of the water.
Citizens in attendance estimated there were about 50 acre-feet of water for purchase.
Ekker explained his reasoning for signing off on the sale of water to the conservancy district. After being approached by the Conservancy District in April, city staff evaluated reservoir storage and determined it had the capacity to sell 10-acre feet without significant impact to the water company or its customers.
According to Ekker’s email the conservation district General Manager Tyler Ivins requested the city sell the district 10 acre-feet to sell to their industrial users as the district reportedly had no water to sell of their own.
Citing seepage, evaporation, and stock taps, staff determined it would benefit Blanding water more to sell the 10-acre feet than to retain it since Recapture will be down into the conservation pool at the end of the season and the city will not be able to save it for next year.
Staff also noted that since the conservancy district planned to resell to ready mix concrete businesses Holliday Construction and Sonderegger Inc.
Staff believes the sale would benefit local development in the community, such as Sunrise Outfitting construction, the remodel of the old Shopko building for the USU extension, and the Utah Food Bank project.
“David Lyman and I evaluated where we are at with respect to reservoir storage and felt like we would be able to let go of 10 AF without any significant impact to our water company. Keep in mind this water will be gone either way at the end of the season.”
Ekker added, “I truly felt that this was a win-win for all stakeholders or I never would have made the recommendation.” Ekker also said Johnson and City Finance Director Kim Palmer concurred with his decision. Johnson added that it was his understanding that the sale would be presented to council as part of an administrative report.
Regardless, the city council expressed a desire to implement a policy to have them act as a pass-through for future water purchases and sales.
City Council member Cheryl Bowers added, “We are the people that are responsible to our citizens and I don’t believe that decision is a decision that should be made lightly.”
Johnson added his agreement, “we need to figure out some sort of structure with the purchase and sell of water. What is administratively able to do versus what then needs to trigger to come to the council.”
During their meeting council also accepted a bid from Tri-Hurst construction to repair city facilities damaged sustained by a hail storm. The city’s insurance will cover $186,000 of damages to City Hall, Visitor Center, Airport Terminal and Gangers, Wellness Center, and other facilities.