By Nick Worth
The Little Colorado Water Conservation District Board of Directors has elected to exercise the right of eminent domain to acquire the well field and pipelines of the now defunct Catalyst Paper Mill outside of Snowflake.
According to a press release, the water district board voted unanimously to condemn the facility and pipe-line following the end of bankruptcy proceedings.
The Catalyst Company has shut down the paper mill and is disposing of it in a court-ordered bankruptcy sale. Most of the mill’s assets are being scrapped. The Apache Railway, which was part of the Catalyst holdings, was also in danger of being scrapped, but after the Snowflake Town Council spoke of condemning the railroad in order to preserve it, company officials are now working with the town to try to find a buyer for the railroad as a working line.
The water conservation district board made its decision to condemn the well facilities on Dec. 6, saying in the press release, “The well field and pipeline can be used to supply much-needed domestic, industrial and municipal water to the unincorporated areas between Snowflake and Holbrook–areas that are served by the district.”
Stephen M. Brophy, president of the Aztec Land & Cattle Company is a member of the water conservation district’s board. Brophy said he does not want to see the pipeline and well field fall into a state of disrepair from non-use.
“It’s likely that whoever buys the mill at the bankruptcy proceeding cannot actively use the water system,” Brophy said. “The system is located close to the southern portion of the district’s service area. The district could definitely use the water system to serve the public.
“That makes much more sense to us than having it rust away because no one is actively operating and maintaining the well field and transmission lines,” he said.
The water conservation district is a special taxing district and can assess property owners for the costs of developing water supplies, such as drilling wells, installing electrical equipment and pumps, and constructing transmission facilities.
“The water system will be put to good use in serving the municipal and industrial users in our area,” said Ian Fraser, president of the water district. “We don’t want to see the water system fall into disrepair because of the bankruptcy, especially since it can be an important component of the future economic development of the area.”
The well field is located approximately five miles west of Snowflake and consists of five wells. The pipe-line from the wells runs west to the paper mill site approximately 15 miles from Snowflake.
There is no pipeline running north from the well sites, but there is an existing ditch that carried effluent from the mill north to Dry Lake, the current site of a large hay farming operation.
There is also no pipeline in place to carry the water back to Snowflake or its industrial park.
Brophy said the wells and pipelines would be condemned once the bankruptcy sale is completed, so the water conservation district will have to reimburse the new owner for the fair market value of the well field and pipeline.
“I believe the term is ‘just compensation,’” Brophy said.
He said he had no idea what that amount might be, but that it would be paid by the district’s users.
“They would pay it either in payment for direct use or in taxes, depending on the incidence of the cost,” Brophy said.
“Those guys (Catalyst) are just throwing up their hands and leaving town,” he said. “They’ve disabled the mill.
“The well field is a valuable community asset,” said Brophy.
Once the water conservation district condemns the wells and pipelines, and pays the auction winner for them, the costs of operating and maintaining the equipment will then fall to the district’s users.
“We have employees elsewhere that maintain wells,” Brophy said. “We’re well versed in maintaining water wells.”
He said it is possible the district might hire someone to maintain the well field and pipeline.
“That depends on the circumstances,” said Brophy.
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By Nick Worth