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Chris Ellis

Heated discussion regarding water issues rise at City Council meeting

By Susan Read News Review Staff Writer–

The Ridgecrest City Council meeting on October 19, 2022, was primarily focused on issues around water, leading to heated discussions between public commenters and council members. Addressing items not on the agenda, citizen Mike Neel spoke about conservation and the need for efforts by residents to reduce household and property use of water. Mike Sinnott phoned in with concerns that the council should share updated information on the proposed wastewater facility and the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority’s (IWVGA) interest in buying treated wastewater. Mayor Eric Bruen told Sinnott that the council would get information to him regarding the facility construction timeline. Scott Miller then approached the podium to ask when the rest of the community could hear the answer to Sinnott’s question, to which Bruen replied that he would be happy to address it under the next agenda heading “Council Announcements/Direction”. Bruen further stated there has been significant progress made regarding the facility.

Mayor Pro Tem Scott Hayman, council liaison to the IWVGA, reported on the latest meeting’s actions to approve a lease with the state to access wells at the old Sawmill site, an agreement with Antelope Valley East Kern (AVEK) Water District to conduct a pipeline alignment study, and the review and adoption of the 2023 IWVGA budget. Hayman listed two wells that have gone dry (Stark Street east of Ridgecrest, and Heritage Village), both of which are being attended to.

Hayman then displayed a slide showing data about the costs associated with importing water to the valley. He reported that the pipeline study will provide more finite details. With that, citizen Chris Ellis (Vice President and General Manager of Coso Operating Company, the geothermal power facility located on the Naval Weapons Station) asked what diameter pipeline was being proposed and at what cost. Hayman’s response was that both were to be determined. Ellis then stated that the cost profile is misleading, to which Hayman replied that nothing is misleading, and suggested that Ellis attend an IWVGA meeting. Comments rose to a heated level as the two men exchanged questions and answers. Ellis stated that he is concerned the people who represent the city go to those meetings and don’t know details. He would like to know the specifics behind the numbers, as he sees a huge difference between the size of the pipeline and the associated costs. When Hayman said Ellis’ question is currently being studied, Ellis asked how long it takes to study. “The Army Corps of Engineers is doing an overview and says it may take six months,” replied Hayman. “This is frustrating to me,” replied Ellis. “Any engineer can put this together in thirty minutes. How long have we been working on this? How long have we known what we want to pump? We’re two years into this and we don’t know the cost of the pipeline, or do we?” “You don’t like the data?” Hayman challenged, and Ellis stated he didn’t think the data that’s being put out is accurate.  Hayman said it was Ellis’s opinion, and that he should bring it to the IWVGA board and let them help him figure it out. Ellis responded strongly, “For me to figure it out? You represent the city. The other thing that I’d like to point out is something I heard from Mayor Bruen, and I loved what he had to say. We don’t solve this by pointing fingers at each other. It’s a fact there are disagreements out there, but if we continue to fight each other, we’re never going to get this solved.” Hayman asked Ellis what he thinks he did when he came to the microphone tonight. “I came because you’re putting out false data. I am interested in a solution with factual data presented to the public.” Mayor Bruen called the meeting back to order, supported by Council Member Kyle Blade’s reminder about the seriousness of the subject.

City Manager Ron Strand lifted spirits by reporting on the positive response to the city’s Quality of Life Community Survey, which is open for another week. Strand will report the final data at the next council meeting. He closed the water discussion with an update that the wastewater facility plans at present are that ground should be broken in October 2024, with construction to begin then and continue for approximately 24 months after that.

The only committee report given was about the Finance Committee and that the general fund reserve is in good order. A troop of Girl Scouts visited the Finance Committee meeting, according to Kyle Blades, and were treated to an opportunity to sit on the dais in council chamber chairs with a lesson in subjects that affect the city. 

Scouting was at the forefront at the opening of the council meeting, as Mayor Bruen and his wife Sharon attended in uniform as den leaders for Cub Scout Pack 341. Pack 341 consists of fifth grade boys who are preparing to move on to Boy Scouts. Members led the Pledge of Allegiance to open this day’s meeting, then approached the podium to address the council. Scout Garrett Bruen stated that the project on a community pool has been “so far, so good. I’ve been reading about it, and I know it’s great for this community. Thank you, council, for helping us do this.” Fellow scout Brenton Steude expressed his wish for a Shrek-themed park in Ridgecrest, and scout Nicholas Esslinger stated that he felt there should be an amusement park, not that big and not that small.

The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts were a reminder to everyone, said Kyle Blades, to be grateful and have faith in the future. Mayor Bruen echoed that sentiment, enthusiastically.