City looks into Air Center water rights

Lisa Dunlap Photo Roswell City Manager Joe Neeb said an Air Center water rights resolution, if passed by city council, would be provided to Federal Aviation Administration.

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The City of Roswell is considering how to unravel the legal and financial issues that involve the Roswell Air Center water rights ceded to the city when the U.S. military ceded the airfield and associated properties to Roswell.

Mayor Dennis Kintigh, who is also chairman of the City of Roswell Airport Advisory Board, said he began several years ago asking city staff to address the issue of airport rights. water that began after the US Army closed Walker Air Force Base in 1967, giving the city ownership of the airfield and approximately 2,500 acre-feet of water. Later, the city integrated the Air Center water supply system with the city system.

“For me the good news is that we are taking a close look at this and it is something that has been ignored for five decades,” Kintigh said.

When the city drilled additional wells on the airfield, the case resulted in a court case and New Mexico Supreme Court ruling in 1982, but that case did not fully resolve all issues. , as posed by Kintigh and others.

Should the Air Center continue to receive all of its water rights money in perpetuity, which city officials say is $ 625,000 per year?

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Or, as Kintigh argues, has the City of Roswell more than paid for the value of water rights in recent years through its investments in the Air Center and the maintenance and to the modernization of the water pipes on the Air Center property, so that all water-related income can go directly to the city’s water business fund?

“The premise that I maintain is that the water and sewer, these two corporate funds, bought the water rights that came with Walker over the past five decades because of the income from these customers. water went to the airport business fund rather than the business fund that provided the service, that did all the work, ”Kintigh said. water towers, a $ 7 million project that was not funded by the Air Center corporate fund but was funded by the water business fund. “

The two water storage towers will primarily serve the air center and owners, businesses and government entities near the air center on the former air base property.

Another example he gave was an 8 inch water pipe to the Sceye hangar which was paid for by the water company fund, even though the water pipe was an improvement to the aerial center. .

Lawyer and commissioner Amy Jo Coll advocates a different approach, saying she researched the issue when it first came to the commission two years ago.

She said she didn’t agree that the city could claim with certainty that it paid Air Center’s water rights. Determining the value of water rights, she said, is beyond the scope or authority of city officials. She also said the Federal Aviation Administration should take her point of view into account.

In the short term, she said, it’s best to put the complicated legal issues around water rights aside and just adjust how the city accounts for water-related revenues and expenses.

“I spoke with the staff at the airport. They believe that, from a procedural standpoint, the accounting change would be beneficial, ”she said.

After the discussion, the committee voted 4 to 1 to recommend that Roswell City Council pass a motion for a resolution regarding water rights at the Air Center, with Coll casting the dissenting vote.

“I have no difficulty modifying the accounting in a procedural way,” she said. “I don’t like the resolution.”

City manager Joe Neeb said the resolution will allow the city to funnel water revenue from Air Center to its water business fund. This fund and the sewer enterprise fund would continue to pay for work on the city’s water and sewer infrastructure.

Then, according to Neeb, the city would ensure that the air hub receives funds from the city budget if necessary to balance its budget.

“It is not the city’s job to cover the air center shortfall,” Neeb said. “It’s the city’s job to have a balanced budget.

While a balanced budget can be achieved by cutting back on Air Center spending when needed, Neeb said he thinks it’s important to make sure the Air Center receives enough funding to keep it going. function.

The draft resolution says the water business fund would agree to pay $ 220 per acre-foot for the Air Center’s water, with a current value of around $ 548,669 per year.

Neeb predicted that it would take many years to resolve the water rights issue if the city decided to finally settle the matter with federal agencies. Kintigh, Coll and Air Center director Scott Stark have all said they believe a legal resolution should take place at some point.

The resolution is expected to be reviewed by the Roswell City Council Legal Committee before being voted on by the entire City Council. If passed, Neeb said, the resolution will be provided to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at [email protected]

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