From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 29 - October 14, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Town stalls on water decision

by Cat Urbigkit

The Pinedale Town Council held its regular meeting Monday night in the Pinedale Library instead of in the town hall in anticipation of the crowd wanting to comment on the town’s proposed sale of Fremont Lake storage rights to the Wyoming Water Development Commission for $10 for a 30-year term. The purpose of the transaction is to establish an instream flow from the Fremont Lake outlet to Pine Creek’s confluence with the New Fork River.

Nearly 50 people gathered, and in the end, the council tabled the matter until its next meeting. Councilwoman Barbara Boyce served as chair of the meeting.

Wyoming Water Development Commission Director Mike Besson was the first to take advantage of the three minutes allotted to each speaker. Besson said he had directed the attorney for his agency to work with the town “to make certain we covered all the legal hurdles associated with the contract.”

Besson added that the contract was on the agenda for the WWDC’s next meeting, slated for Nov. 16 and 17 in Casper.

Some of those in attendance questioned why the contract was for a 30-year term. Town Attorney Ed Wood said the original contract called for 20 years, but “I thought 30 years - the more the better,” adding that he had proposed a 60-year term, but the contract eventually settled on the 30-year term.

John Mackey expressed concern about the water deal and asked: “How did this get started? Who proposed this agreement?”

Besson responded that it was the town council that proposed the agreement, and Boyce added: “It got started because Pine Creek was in terrible condition ... One thing led to another and here we are.”

Laurie Gooodman, state director of the Wyoming Water Project for Trout Unlimited, thanked the town council for its perseverance in this effort to obtain an instream flow for Pine Creek, which she said has taken more than three years. Goodman called the process overly bureaucratic and unnecessarily controversial, adding, “No one will be injured by this decision.”

Randy Bolgaino, who noted he has no personal stake in this issue but is extremely involved in water issues, walked the town through the process, noting that once the town conveys the water right deed to the state, there is yet another portion to the process. That other portion is the application for transfer of water right, which must meet several criteria: there must be water available, the transfer must comply with statute, and there can be no injury to other appropriators.

Bolgiano said it appears that the state engineer won’t have any problem approving the application for transfer of water right because the three criteria will be met, because any injury to existing irrigators unfortunately probably cannot be substantiated.

But Bolgaino reminded the council that if the council exercises its option to repurchase the water right back from WWDC, the state engineer will once again have to go through the process, including the application for transfer of the water right, once again addressing the three criteria.

Bolgiano said while the first two criteria will be achieved, the third, that of no injury to appropriators, may be a hurdle.

“You suddenly find yourself in unchartered territory,” Bolgiano said, noting that there has never been application to transfer water out of an instream flow.

“It may be argued that the appropriators are fish,” Bolgiano warned.

Dennis Schroeder, president of local chapter of Trout Unlimited, spoke in favor of the water deal, adding that if an instream flow is established, Trout Unlimited has plans to do a $100,000 habitat improvement project through the two town parks.

“We are making no promises, as this work is contingent upon approval by the property owners and the availability of funds,” Schroeder said.

Dan Budd of Big Piney cast doubt on the assertion that there won’t be any harm to any of the other irrigators, citing regulation of Middle Piney Creek and the estimated loss in productivity of over $700,000 per year.

Budd also noted that WWDC members serve at the pleasure of the governor, which can turn over every four years.

“You cannot bind one elected official with another,” Budd said. “What you’re entering into is something that you may not be able to have any control over in future years.”

James Highley of Pinedale spoke in favor of the water rights deal, noting it would improve the community and benefit town children and out-of-town visitors who may stop to enjoy Pinedale’s town parks.

After first reading a letter of opposition into the record from Paul Hagenstein, a landowner with direct flow right on Pine Creek, Leslie Rozier read her own letter aloud, also stating her opposition to what she called an instream flow to support Pine Creek’s rtificially induced tailwater fisheries of imported fish.

Jack Roberts, representing Sublette County Farm Bureau, called the deal to get an instream flow an anti-ag effort and said his organization was strictly opposed to it.

John Dahlke said in the five years he spent as a water commissioner, no issue came to him more than the lack of water in Pine Creek. Dahlke spoke in favor of the water sale.

John Mackey told the council: “You folks are the guardians, the trustees of municipal property ... It just doesn’t make sense to me, to give your water away.”

After about an hour of the public hearing, the council closed the meeting to comment.

Councilmember Gary Hueck asked for a show of hands about how many people present at the meeting were residents living within the town limits who vote in municipal elections, and about 10 people raised their hands. He then asked how many of them favored the instream flow deal, to which two people raised their hands. That was from a crowd of about 50 people.

Trout Unlimited’s Goodman interjected that when the instream flow issue arose last year, over 175 people supported it, but those people “are home with their families tonight because you shouldn’t have to show up four times for the same issue.”

Councilmember Nylla Kunard asked what guarantee the town would have that the water would get down Pine Creek through Pinedale and Wood advised that if the instream flow right was approved by the state, it would be a protected right.

Goodman pledged that Trout Unlimited would fund the measuring gauges to make sure that the water gets down the creek.

Hueck said that in his view, “other than our children or grandchildren, our water is out most precious resource.” He made a motion to deny the sale of the water rights, but none of the other council members would second the motion, so it died.

When the council was polled for any other motions, no other council members would make a motion. Eventually the council decided to table action on the issue until its next meeting. Hueck opposed that motion, but his was the lone vote in opposition.

The council’s next meeting will be held Monday, Oct. 25, at 6:30 p.m. in the Pinedale Town Hall.

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