|Friday, January 14, 2000
Albuquerque, NM Tries to
Municipalize Water System
...But Support Fades
By Olivier Uyttebrouck
Journal Staff Writer
Four of Albuquerque's
nine councilors expressed opposition this week to the city's plan to buy New Mexico
Meanwhile, an official
of California-based Southwest Water Co., which owns New Mexico Utilities, said the company
is lukewarm about selling the business to Albuquerque.
"If it goes away,
we will not be unhappy," said Peter Moerbeek, chief financial officer of Southwest
He also said the company
is likely to want a higher price for New Mexico Utilities than the $29.5 million
negotiated 14 months ago. He declined to estimate a new figure.
Supporters of the
purchase say city ownership of New Mexico Utilities would help protect the aquifer and
assure the city's water supply by better controlling housing and commercial growth on the
managing the aquifer, managing the resource," said Lawrence Rael, the city's chief
administrative officer. "We're spending millions and millions to preserve the aquifer
and we have a for-profit utility pumping it away."
New Mexico Utilities
provides water and sewer service to about 7,000 West Side homes. It grew 17 percent in
1999, adding about 1,000 new households in some of Albuquerque's fastest growing West Side
subdivisions, including Ventana Ranch and Paradise Hills.
Several councilors said
they don't like the idea of the city buying a private company.
takeover of private utilities didn't work in Moscow, didn't work in East Berlin, isn't
working in Havana, and I don't think it will work in Albuquerque," said newly elected
Councilor Greg Payne.
Brasher and Mike McEntee previously fought the deal and remain opposed.
Hess Yntema, also
recently elected, said he is "against the city buying private companies." He
said he would be inclined to vote against the purchase, but would consider arguments
favoring the deal.
Brasher, McEntee and
then-Councilor Sam Bregman opposed the deal in November 1998 when councilors voted 6-3 to
enter an agreement to buy New Mexico Utilities for $29.5 million. The agreement, which
required further negotiation, would settle a condemnation lawsuit filed by the city.
Support for the purchase
appears weaker this year as a consequence of the Oct. 5 election. Two of the city's three
new councilors, Payne and Yntema, are among the opponents. The third new member, Brad
Winter, said this week he isn't familiar with the proposal and doesn't know whether he
would support it.
Councilors Alan Armijo,
Vince Griego, Adele Hundley and Tim Kline, voted in favor of the deal, along with
then-councilors Ruth Adams and Tim Cummins.
Armijo said he still
favors the purchase. Griego could not be reached for comment.
Hundley and Kline said
they would have to reconsider the deal, which has received little attention from the
council in more than a year.
But Hundley said city
ownership of New Mexico Utilities would benefit the city.
don't want to think about the time when we don't have water," said Hundley. "My
experience is, if you can buy water rights, you don't turn that down."
New Mexico Utilities has
state permission to pump up to 10,000 acre feet a year, though it now pumps about 6,000
Rael said City Council
support for the purchase would be required, but "the support may not be there."
One hurdle is an
agreement between New Mexico Utilities and investors in the proposed Quail Ranch
development, formerly known as Black Ranch. Developer John Black wants to turn his
family's ranch on the West Mesa into a planned community that could one day house up to
The agreement obligates
New Mexico Utilities to provide the development's water and waste water needs to the
extent of the utility's ability to provide water, Moerbeek said. Southwest Water officials
want the city and developers to free Southwest Water from any legal obligation to provide
water should the city buy the utility, he said.
Albuquerque to guarantee water and waste water service, but city officials don't want to
promise an unlimited supply of water to Quail Ranch, he said.
The city has not reached
an agreement with developers, Rael said.