County mulls bid for Red Dome mineral rights

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Withers questions landfill needs in fees debate

Millard County commissioners went into executive session at the end of last Tuesday’s regular meeting in Fillmore to discuss purchasing mineral rights on 117 acres of privately owned property at a cost approaching $400,000.

The purchase, if successful, could secure a “lifetime’s worth” of road-building minerals that might otherwise cost the county a similar amount of money over just three years of purchasing the same material on the open market.

Brandon Winget, superintendent of the Millard County Road Department, told commissioners that an earlier bid to purchase rights from Red Dome for $1,800 an acre was declined by the owner. A better offer, in the neighborhood of $3,000 to $3,500 an acre, Winget said, might prove more successful.

“In three years, it’s going to be paid for if I have to buy the chips,” he said.

A private company has offered to buy the same mineral rights at a higher price, but wished to make payments. The owner, Winget said, also refused that offer.

Winget was asked to look into whether the county could purchase the mineral rights in February, according to commission minutes from a Feb. 6 meeting. At that time Winget told commissioners the purchase price could be as high as $500,000, and the savings to the county $250,000 a year, according to the meeting minutes.

Commissioner James Withers clarified during Tuesday’s meeting that the county would not be purchasing property, only mineral rights.

County Attorney Pat Finlinson said any purchase would not be without risk.

“I think we know what we’re buying. We’re buying the rights that Red Dome has to extract those minerals,” he said. “But what we don’t have is any more secure certainty from anyone beyond the local BLM people. They are all very supportive of us buying those and they’ve all given us assurances that they will do whatever it takes to make sure we can extract the materials. What we don’t have is that same assurance from the layers of BLM and U.S. Attorneys Office above them that they are not going to come in and say you have to either put up a reclamation bond or do some reclamation, or just come in and say the rights are not what (the owner) says it is.”

Winget said the county should not be too concerned with reclamation since county workers already reclaim gravel pits throughout the county on a monthly basis anyway.

“The reclamation part, we have 30 pits in the county with the BLM right now out in the desert. We reclaim them when we’re done every month,” he said.

On the question of whether the federal government could somehow disrupt the county’s ability to extract the minerals, Finlinson said he believed there was a possible risk, but that it was probably insignificant.

“We would buy whatever he has. But we are buying some uncertainly. It’s minimal. I feel a lot better about it than I did two years ago. But there is still that idea out there that the feds could come in and force us to put something up as far as reclamation, some money for reclamation. There is some risk there. It’s not significant I don’t think,” he said.

Commissioner Dean Draper signaled that the county was probably going to make a new offer. He made a motion that the commission discuss the item further in executive session, which is not open to the public.

“Since this is going to be an offer and a negotiation, I recommend that we table this and go into executive session later,” he said.

Landfill Fees Discussion 

County commissioners discussed the prospect of new landfill fees in the near future, with at least one commissioner raising questions about whether a study submitted earlier this year from Zions Public Finance went too far in estimating the landfill’s equipment needs.

Withers said he was concerned that the Zions report estimated the county would need to purchase almost $6 million in equipment over the next few years.

“Why do we need all this equipment all of a sudden?” he asked. “In the past we’ve gotten by for 30 years with a scraper, a dozer, some haul trucks and that was pretty much it. But now we need trackhoes and belly dumps, semis.”

John Higgins, the county’s landfill supervisor, said the list of more than a dozen pieces of equipment was for prioritizing future purchases, not a representation of the landfill’s immediate needs.

Draper previously asked Higgins to come up with his top five equipment needs. These five items were brought up at the meeting and included two $190,000 garbage trucks—one being a replacement for a truck that caught fire last week—a replacement for a $702,000 scraper, a replacement for a broken $644,000 Caterpillar compactor, and a replacement for a $673,000 dozer. The compactor and dozer were new in the 1970s.

Draper said he wanted to move forward on a new fee schedule simply to finance these equipment needs, end inequities in the current fee structure and bring the enterprise fund that finances landfill operations into equilibrium, which he said could be done by 2025.

Withers said he believed any proposal should avoid charging residents or businesses to dispose of dead animals at the landfill. He also urged commissioners to support lowering fees for older residents.

Previously, commissioners were told a new ordinance would be needed to change the landfill’s fee requirements. However, Finlinson said a resolution setting new fees is likely all that needs to be approved.

“I’ve been saying all along that we needed an ordinance to do this, thinking that this was a more comprehensive shakeup. If all we’re doing is changing fees, our 1988 ordinance already allows that to be done by resolution. So we can proceed by resolution if that’s all we’re doing is changing the fee structure,” he said.

Finlinson said he might produce competing resolutions so that commissioners would have options on which to decide.

Water Fight Attorney Fees 

Commissioners agreed to pay attorney Mark Ward, of Balance Resources, to continue representing Millard County in the years-long dispute to save aquifers in Snake Valley from being disrupted by proposed water pipelines in rural Nevada meant to quench the thirst of a growing population in Las Vegas.

The Nevada State Engineer earlier approved an effort by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pump water out of Spring Valley into Clark County. Millard and Juab counties plan to appeal a court ruling finding that project legal.

“Actually it’s in the Spring Valley in Nevada ruling, which would affect the Snake Valley eventually because it would affect underground water flows there,” Draper told commissioners.

Commissioners agreed to pay Ward $5,000 now and $5,000 additionally after the work is done in the courts.

Commissioners earlier agreed to pay Ward $6,000 during a December 2017 commission meeting.

Alzheimer’s Dolls 

Commissioners approved spending $500 from the county’s special projects fund to purchase four lifelike stuffed animals for patients at the Millard County Rehab Center.

Elaine Miller, a volunteer at the center, approached the commission about the project after raising funds privately to purchase eight lifelike dolls for patients. Miller said she noticed that Alzheimer’s patients at the facility responded well to the dolls, but some patients preferred animals, dogs and cats in particular.

“They become their babies. They don’t want to let go of them,” she said of patients’ interactions with the dolls. “There are some men there and some other women, who don’t want dolls but they like animals. There are lifelike dogs and lifelike cats out there … I need four total, two of each, two dogs and two cats right now.”

Draper made a motion to approve the expenditure, saying that Miller “has been the driving force for an awful lot of good things at the care center.”

In Other Business 

— Commissioners approved transferring funds from the tourism budget to the county raceway.

— A new bid package was ordered prepared for bids to replace the air handler at the county swimming pool in Delta.

— A bid was approved to remove and replace 400 feet of concrete curb at 81 S. Manzanita Avenue.

— Commissioners approved a resolution requesting the recertification of the Millard County Justice Court judge.

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