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Heart Mountain Irrigation wind anemometer investment irks couple

Members of the Heart Mountain Irrigation District Board of Commissioners should pay out of their own pockets for four wind anemometers they purchased with district funds, a Powell couple says.

That is because the board did not research the legality of wind development properly prior to buying instruments, which measure wind speed, Fred and Buffy Burris said Friday.

The also want a $150 newly-approved annual maintenance charge reduced.

The Burrises, who live on four acres off Lane 11H, west of Powell, say the board purchased four anemometers at a price of $59,940 without first researching the legality of producing and selling wind-generated power.

“They didn’t check on it before they spent a lot of money,” said Fred Burris, a member of the Rim View Water Association.

“We didn’t think we had to look into the statutes,” said Dan Laursen, Heart Mountain Irrigation District manager.

The district has been consulting with wind experts for the last two years. The district’s intention is to gather and sell wind power to help pay for irrigation infrastructure, and to pass on wind-generated revenue to district landowners, Laursen said.

After agreeing to buy the anemometers in a March 9 regular meeting, the commissioners sought legal advice to find out if the district could generate and sell wind power.

Two legal sources said it was against state statutes to generate wind power; one lawyer said the district could harness hydro-electric power, Fred Burris said.

Employing hydro-electric power as the Shoshone Irrigation District does is not feasible in the Heart Mountain District, Laursen said.

“The problem was, from what we understand, a lot of the landowners had not even heard about (the purchase),” said Fred.
“We just heard about it in June,” Buffy added.

In December, Heart Mountain Irrigation users will be required to pay a $150 maintenance fee. That would be coupled with the $22.50 per-acre annual fee for irrigation water.

Crunching the numbers, with approximately 700 Heart Mountain Irrigation users charged $150, that would equal 57 percent of the maintenance fee allocated for the anemometers, said Buffy Burris.

The anemometers were paid for from reserve funding, Laursen said.

According to a letter they plan to send other district users, the Burrises want the board to pay back all the money they spent on anemometers, attorneys, consultants and other wind-related expenses. Plus, they want the $150 maintenance fee reduced.

Laursen said the $150 fee is to fund the budget. There is no budget shortfall, he said, but the district might have to tap $40,000 from reserves for the 2010-11 budget.

“The 150 (dollars) was going to come anyway,” Laursen added.

The $150 increase was signed off on by a state district court judge in Cody.

“We filed our budget with the court and the court approved it,” Laursen said.

“We’re trying to deliver water, the same to everybody,” Laursen said.

If the district has more wind-energy related issues, district users could be responsible for millions in payments, Fred said.

If wind energy is authorized within the district, it could mean revenue, Laursen said.

“These turbines produce a lot of money,” Laursen said.

With the $150 increase, Laursen said a landowner sitting on two acres would pay less than $200 annually to water their property.

For the Burrises the total irrigation fees would equate to $240 yearly.

“Small landowners like us, that’s a pretty big jump in cost,” said Fred.

Heart Mountain irrigation initially was earmarked for farming only, and Laursen said he believes the price to irrigate small plots or large farms is fair.

President Ric Rodriguez and Commissioner Rod Morrison, of the Heart Mountain Irrigation District Board, agreed to buy an anemometer for the price it fetches on eBay, according to July 13 regular meeting district minutes.

Laursen said revenue for the U.S. 14-A project to widen the highway required moving laterals on district rights-of-way near the highway. With the Wyoming Department of Transportation paying for the move, the district was ensured revenue for at least the last five years, but now the district’s portion of the project is over, so that revenue source is drying up.