By Jack King: CNJ staff writer
Federal authorization legislation for the Ute Water Project will be submitted to the U.S. Senate in June, a spokeswoman for Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said Thursday.
Officials have said authorization legislation is required before the project can be eligible for federal funds.
Jude McCartin, Bingaman’s Washington press representative, said authorization legislation will not appropriate funding for the project. Instead, it will state Congress has approved the project for funding by the federal government and has approved the federal government providing 80 percent of its cost, she said.
Current estimates place the cost of the project at just over $307 million, said Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega.
McCartin said after being introduced on the Senate floor, the bill will be referred to the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., with Bingaman as its ranking Democrat.
Board members of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority said last year they hoped to have authorization legislation drafted by January or February and sent to Congress before the election season began, but McCartin said Thursday a few months delay is not really a problem.
“A bill of this magnitude is typically not passed in the same session in which it’s introduced. It was always going to be a process that would take many months and work in both Houses,” she said.
McCartin said Congressional representatives are waiting to receive economic reports from Ute Water Project consultants that will provide information on water rate allocation, communities’ financial plans, and costs and financing needs over the life of the project.
“We’re looking forward to the reports, because they will help settle the question of how the project’s operation and maintenance costs will be paid,” she said.
Project Manager Scott Verhines said economic consultants hired by the board plan to present their reports at the ENMRWA’s board meeting in Portales on June 16.
“We’ve always recognized that questions about how the project will be paid for will come up in committee. That’s why we’re working on these efforts now,” he said.
Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega called the news that the authorization legislation will be introduced in June “exciting.”
“That’s what we’ve been hoping for,” he said. “We’re trying to stay on a time line and this is very positive news.”