Havre Daily News
Havre Mayor Bob Rice has named himself, public works director Dave Peterson and presumptive incoming Havre City Council member Gerry Veis to represent the city on the North Central Montana Regional Water Authority.
Rice announced the appointments Tuesday in a letter to Havre City Council members. The appointments came at the request of the City Council, which voted unanimously Monday to include Havre in the water authority. At a later date, they will determine whether the city will join the water system, which will receive water from a treatment plant at Lake Elwell.
Veis won a Sept. 13 Democratic primary election. No Republican filed for the Nov. 8 general election for the Ward 1 seat held by Dana West, who did not seek re-election, so Veis will run unopposed.
Veis said today that he is happy to represent the city on the water authority, composed of the nontribal communities set to participate in the Rocky Boy's/North Central Regional Water System. As a member, he wants to learn more about what joinging the system would mean for Havre.
"You have to go in with an open mind," Veis said. "I have a couple of serious questions. What we need tofind out is: Is it appropriate for the city of Havre to participate in this?"
Veis took issue with the possibility of Havre having to pay to join. Havre may be asked to pay about $778,000 to join the system. Havre's inclusion in the system, however, would also lower monthly water rates for the other users in the proposed system.
Veis said Havre should not have to be responsible for that cost because of the savings that will be realized by the other systems if Havre joins.
"We're lowering (the cost)" for the system's users, he said. "Why is it they're asking us to pay some of it?"
Bear Paw Development Corp. deputy director Annmarie Robinson said today that if Havre joins the system, it would mean that about 28,000 residents across north-central Montana would get water from the system when it is fully constructed. Those users would pay about $11.50 per hookup each month. If Havre opts out and the other communities stay in, that number would be closer to 18,000, and users would pay $17, she said.
Some regional water authority members have suggested that the additional cost for Havre to join the system could be shared among the other communities in the system.
The engineer's estimate of $778,000 may be lower, higher or nonexistent, because it is within the margin of error of the study.
The authority's members will meet Oct. 18 in Shelby to finalize a participation agreement, which will be taken back to each community for a decision. Signing the agreement is the final step to joining the regional system. That decision will likely have to be made in January.
Veis is also worried about control over water treatment.
"If you're sharing control, you don't absolutely have any control in it," he said.
But maintaining a treatment plant in Havre could be costly too, Robinson said.
Water systems have to deal with EPA water quality and treatment regulations, which can change every five years, she said.
"We know that EPA will change the regulations," Robinson said. "That's not going to go away. Havre has a really good treatment plant. No one's denying that. The thing is, Havre's going to have to put more money in there. They may have to invest capital to bring treatment up on a regular basis."
Havre water users are still paying for the $9 million loan that went toward renovating the Havre water treatment plant.
Other water systems in the state are also struggling to find certified operators for their plants, Robinson said. The Hill County Water District, which is under a boil order, is now dealing with that problem after recently losing its full-time operator.
"You just don't go get an operator that has the experience," Robinson said. "There's several systems in Montana that are looking for operators. It's harder and harder to find operators. Luckily, Havre hasn't had that problem, but it doesn't take much ... to end up having to search for an operator."
Democratic council member and mayoral candidate Pam Hillery said Veis is a good choice to represent Havre.
"Gerry has proved his interest in this community in the past," she said. "He has a sharp mind and will ask good questions, and that's what we need.
"I hope they all go into it with an open mind, and ask the questions that need to be asked for the benefit of Havre," Hillery added.
Rice could not be reached for comment.