Thursday, July 19, 2007

Billions and Billions

I dragged my tired old bones down to the Southern Nevada Water Authority board meeting Thursday morning on the orders of my friend and boss, Bob Fulkerson, PLAN's honcho. Who's in Paris or something having the time of his life. Bob wants me to say something at the SNWA board meeting, a convocation usually packed with SNWA staffers, contractors, developers and the politicos whom they love to love with generous campaign contributions.
Not too many people actually go down there because there's rarely any debate over the well-greased agenda that gets presented, which is unfortunate, because, well, it's our money and lifestyles that are getting carved up. The biggest turkey of all is the notorious Groundwater Development Project, commonly known as the Water Grab.
I thought about what I could say. I could say that the Water Grab is the most awesomely destructive and ill-conceived project since the Las Vegas Monorail, but that's probably not fair to the monorail guys since the Water Grab is a far more ambitious assault on sane public policy. I could point out that servicing the greed-fueled ambitions of developers and contractors seems to get the elected folks of the Las Vegas Valley in hot water (ha!), including extended stays in federal prison. But to be fair, not every elected official in the history of Southern Nevada has been convicted and hauled off to federal prison and it would be unfair to judge them all by, say, a majority of the Clark County Commission, circa 2000.
So I fell back on an old standby - the money thing. Here's what's weird about the Water Grab. No one seems to know how much it's going to cost. You'd think a huge agency with billions to play with, that regularly wins awards for its handling of those billions of dollars, that plays a critical role in providing our community with an essential resource would know what it's going to cost to defoliate central Nevada to fuel more slots and tract housing down here.
I pointed out to the seven SNWA board members that news reports sourced to SNWA staff seemed all over the place. Some put the dollar figure up in the $4 billion or $5 billion range. In one recent radio show, spokesman Scott Huntley put the number at $3.6 billion, and you'd think that would be a sorta official number, but apparently not. The local dead tree of record and numerous other media keep throwing out the 20-year-old estimate of $2 billion, which was always discredited by outside analysts and seemingly by the SNWA itself, but strangely, the agency stays mum when the number is regurgitated.
So I asked for a public figure. Pick one, but just give us the estimate. In contemporary dollars, not from the last century.
New board chairwoman and North Las Vegas Councilwoman for Life Shari Buck said a staff person would get back to me. I pointed out that would not be the kind of "public" discussion that I had hoped for. Buck STERNLY informed me that a staff person would talk to me after the meeting was concluded. No public discussion of such trivialities of how many billions would be spent destroying the environment on her watch!
Anyhoo, SNWA Deputy General Managers Dick Wimmer, the money guy, and Kay Brothers, the engineering boss, (who are both very nice people, btw) kinda sighed and did talk to me after the meeting. But I don't have a number for you.
"It's a moving target," Wimmer told me. Costs change. Inflation takes a toll on previous estimates. It's definitely not the same project as was envisioned (to nearly universal scorn) two decades ago.
OK. Let's take all that into consideration. Surely the SNWA has some guess, in contemporary dollars, of what the most massive groundwater diversion in the history of the West is going to cost?
Well, apparently not, at least for now. But there is reason to hope. Wimmer said that sometime in the near future, SNWA hopes to have an estimate that the staff can share with the public who are paying for the Water Grab. He's promised to let the public know when that happens.

1 comment:

Howard said...

Well, I hope they also factor in repair and security costs when the "hicks" and up north and true eco-terrorists down here start dynamiting the goddamn pipeline.

And yeah, that would be unfair to the Monorail, at least it's just a poorly thought out project that wasted money and serves practically nobody. It's not destroying ecosystems, just common sense.