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Calaveras County Water Board Wants Out Of JPA

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The divorce between the Calaveras County Water District and the Utica Power Authority is imminent. An agreement to withdraw from the joint powers authority is at the top of the agenda for CCWD´s meeting 9 a.m. Wednesday. Withdrawal from the power board looks imminent.

The other two UPA members are the city of Angels Camp and the Murphys-based Union Public Utility District. The authority´s board is comprised of two representatives from each agency.

Together the three agencies operate the lower Utica water system, including Angels Creek and its two hydroelectric plants. The relationship between CCWD and the other two agencies has been rocky from the authority´s beginning 10 years ago and its purchase of the system from PG&E in 1996.

The situation was exacerbated in April of 2002 when the other two agencies voted to impose a $55,000 assessment of each member agency to cover repair costs of the three-quarter mile flume that was destroyed during the Septempber 2001, Darby Fire.

CCWD representatives claimed the assessment required a supra-majority vote of 5-1 because it was a major financial issue. The other agencies said a 4-2 vote was appropriate because it fell under bylaws regarding emergency situations. CCWD eventually paid the assessment under protest.

The district initially led the effort to form the UPA and contributed $2.5 million in the form of two loans to purchase the system in order to protect the county´s water rights. About $1.34 million remains outstanding.

According to the tentative proposal, the remaining UPA members would repay CCWD within 20 years at $5,000 annually for each loan. Angels Camp and the UPUD will continue as the Utica Power Authority, and hold CCWD harmless from authority obligations, states the agreement.

CCWD´s original intent in organizing the authority was exactly what the district needed to be doing n protecting the county´s water rights, district Board President Jeff Davidson said Monday.

Unfortunately, CCWD had no way of getting that money back, Davidson said. “We don´t have any rate payers on that system,” he said.

Angels Camp and the UPUD, on the other hand, draw from that system for their customers and could always adjust their rates to cover costs, Davidson said.

Davidson said it often seemed that, despite the fact his district paid for the system, “and several times rescued it,” there was often negative sentiment against CCWD. He noted that the other two agencies are probably also tired of being second-guessed by CCWD.

Angels Camp Mayor Debbie Ponte, who is the UPA board chairwoman, could not be reached for comment, but Davidson said he would be surprised if there was any opposition from the other members over this agreement.

“I´m real optimistic,” Davidson said, adding the authority has been negotiating the withdrawal for a long time.

Calaveras Enterprise story by Craig Koscho

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