Water boards steaming over merger comments

Photo by Vail Daily/Preston Utley
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Bob Warner thinks the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority needs to adopt a more community-minded approach toward consolidation.
Vail Daily/Preston Utley

Cliff Thompson
August 9, 2004

What amounted to a bare-knuckled verbal slugfest broke out between representatives from two water boards that represent residents and businesses from Wolcott to East Vail.

The pivotal issue sparking the pointed comments is a stalled consolidation proposal that would merge the functions of the two boards into one. That has been a political hot potato sparking a lively philosophical debate that springs from the lack of voting rights in water board elections for second-home owners - and even a dash of class struggle.

The criticism came from Bob Warner and was aimed at the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, a consortium of water districts that provides water to residents from Dowd Junction to Wolcott. It has been proposed that the Water Authority and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District board merge to avoid the administrative duplication. The boards hold separate meetings, often on the same topics.

"Maybe it's time for a more global approach on what's best for the valley," Warner said. "Not what's best for the people living in multi-million dollar homes."

Warner, the former chairman of the Water Authority board, is now a member of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, which oversees water in Vail and sewer service from Vail to Wolcott.

He aimed his criticism at Steve Friedman, a retired corporate executive who is now chairman of the Water Authority and opposes consolidation. Friedman lives in Beaver Creek's exclusive Strawberry Park, a gated community.

Residency requirement?
"I would not concede for an instant that the Water Authority has not been looking to the future," said Friedman. "It seems less a matter of why we should merge and more (an issue) of if the right people are sitting on the board."

Warner - speaking as a a citizen, not a board member - said long-term residents bring different views to the boards than recent retirees or second-home owners.

"You have a different perspective if you've lived here for 30 years," Warner said. "Retirees have a different perspective than people who did actively work in the community.

"We need to focus on what's good for the community, not just what it costs," he added. "It takes a whole village to raise a kid. You can't just look in your little subdivision.

Warner's comments on tenure rankled Friedman
"I'm not sure why someone who is making a home here for the past five or 10 years should have less of a stake or perspective on what's appropriate," he said. "I could argue the valley had changed sufficiently, that we need new thinking and not old thinking on these boards. I think there is no reason to believe they are more or less committed on the basis of their length of time here."

Friedman said Warner had never called the Water Authority board shortsighted while he was a member.

"I'm a little mystified," Friedman said. "In the course of the years that I sat on the board, I never heard Bob speaking from his chairman's seat that we weren't looking forward far enough."

Two votes short
Friedman said he opposes consolidation because it would leave Beaver Creek without representation on taxing issues. A consolidated district, as proposed, would have one representative for Beaver Creek and Eagle-Vail.

"Because of the nature of the communities that are part of the Water Authority, we tend to have more people or customers who are not eligible to vote in elections yet we are entitled to some representation," Friedman said. "To give up a seat at the table without there being an overpowering reason to do so seems not in the best interest of the people."

Friedman said Warner's comments may have had the opposite effect from what he intended.

"Even the people who were more disposed (to consolidation) were taken aback," Friedman said. "We wanted to see a compelling case. What we heard did not amount to a compelling case.

"I don't for an instant question his belief," Friedman added. "I don't think he's convinced anyone yet."

Consolidation would require a unanimous vote of both water boards. At last count, the Water Authority was two votes short of agreeing to consolidation.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450 or at cthompson@vaildaily.com.
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