City Council Candidate Responses: Has the council handled the Madison situation responsibly for everyone involved?

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(Gillette, Wyo.) There are eight candidates running for city council in contested races.

There are three candidates for mayor. There are also four candidates in two races for Ward I council positions. Why are there two races for Ward I? There are three wards in Gillette, with two councilors in each ward. Kevin McGrath resigned from his Ward I position, and the council appointed Shawn Neary to that Ward I position. It has two years remaining, and Bruce Brown and Darin Edmonds are running for that spot. The second Ward I council position is also up for election for a four-year term. Shawn Neary and Terry Sjolin are vying for that spot on the council.

Incumbents Tim Carsrud and Robin Kuntz in Ward II and Ward III are also up for election, but their races are unchallenged.

As part of our goal here at County 17 of informing voters for the upcoming primaries, we are sending out unique questions for each race to let voters get a better understanding of who the candidates are.

We’ll be posting answers from the councilor candidates through today and the weekend. Here’s previous responses:

The Madison Water Supply Project is a vital piece of infrastructure and one of the most complex projects the city has undertaken in the past 20 years. Crook County residents have complained about reclamation and impacts to wells. While the city may not be liable for any of the problems, as councilor, how would you work with landowners impacted by projects that the city is involved in designing and constructing? When does the city have an obligation to help residents outside the city? Has the council handled the Madison situation responsibly for everyone involved? (500 words)

Mayoral Candidate Louise Carter-King

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I think the Madison Water Project is our biggest concern today. The water project is the largest in the state’s history at $220 million dollars.  It is a very complex project made more complicated by an amendment added at the last hour of the last day of an extended legislative session. It is not fair that our citizens taxed themselves to bring water to our region and are now being asked to provide water to another county who did not tax themselves.

We have been meeting with our Representatives and Senators as well as talking to legislators across the state about the many problems with the amendment. We hope to get the amendment repealed in the session next year. In the meantime, we are working with the DEQ and the State Engineers office to get water to our community as well as all the districts in our region.

I am confident we can work out a solution that will be a win/win for all involved.

Mayoral Candidate Jarik Dudley

I am a strong advocate in protecting the private property rights of our citizens. I believe that the government has no rights to land privately owned, and as an elected official it is our duty to protect property rights of our constituents. With that said, if the landowner is impacted by a project the city is involved in, there has to be a formal complaint filed and it should be treated no different than any other violation of city ordinance. How does this relates to the Madison project? If landowners feel that a violation of their property rights exist, there should be a specialized process to investigate the issue and seek a proper remedy to address the problem. Although, the city is not obligated to help residents outside the city, I believe that the city should always be a good neighbor and assist when we can. I have faith in the city and the county’s ability to work together to solve issues that need attention and assist residents that have been affected by extreme weather events, fires, etc.

I am not sure if the council handled the Madison situation responsibly for everyone involved. I do know that I may have handled the issue differently by addressing the concern with state officials and asking questions about who is ultimately responsible for the project. I would also ask, is the city liable to pay back all monies received from the state if the decision was passed by our state government not our local municipality? Since it was passed, what safeguards will be in place to prevent over tapping or high consumption rates that could affect the City of Gillette?  There are a dozen questions like this that I would ask before I took a stand against the issue. I am sure that there is a way to collaborate with Crook County to find a win-win solution for this issue.

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Mayoral Candidate Robert Kaczmarek

I feel that a lot of down play has been taking place about the Madison pipe line, just to say my water level has dropped because of it they need to take in mind that we have had a drought going on for the past few years, also for the reclaiming what is so bad that it is complained about.  All of these thing have gotten out of hand and yes some may be true but not all, if it can be proved that Gillette is at fault then we can act on it and make things right in one way or another.
I feel that the council has handled the Madison project as well as can be expected.

Ward I (2-year) Councilor Candidate Bruce Brown

When it comes to disputes like this, I start with the contract to see what promises were agreed to in the contract. If the dispute comes from a condition not addressed in the contact I would start a dialogue to make sure we are all in agreement as to what the facts and circumstances are that is causing the dispute.

Sometimes we cannot foresee all of the unintended consequences actions have when we enter into a contract. That appears to be the case here because no one anticipated the Madison project would negatively affect surrounding neighbors’ wells. In this case I believe the Council has done a good job of trying to work through this issue. This comes down to being a good neighbor and doing the right thing, opening up the dialogue and trying to reach a settlement. The City has walked away from a substantial amount money. This money came with a lot of strings attached and the City is protecting the interests of the citizens of Gillette, which it should. Now they are looking for a workable solution.

If we have good honest communication concerning disputes we can work toward a solution. That is exactly what the Council and City has done. The city is trying to be a good neighbor and trying to reach a solution while at the same time protecting the interests of it citizens.

Ward I (2-year) Councilor Candidate Darin Edmonds

The Madison project is undoubtedly the largest capital project the city has ever undertaken. The strategic importance of that project cannot be understated. Water is the lifeblood of the west, and in Wyoming most of it lies underground. The Cemetery District operates and maintains its own supply and distribution system within the Gillette city limits as well as in rural locations throughout Campbell county. I operate that system exclusively. Because we drill and maintain our own wells, I am intimately familiar with Wyoming water law, water rights, and usage regulations and limitations.  When dealing with our own water supply system, we have always known that we have to be good neighbors.  When you are doing large projects like this, you always have to ask your neighbors for something, easements, access, usage, temporary construction and fluid discharge permits. These are things that are important to you and your goals, but not so much to the neighbors. You need to always be mindful of their sacrifice and inconvenience.

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However, I know very intimately that water law in Wyoming is very complicated and also very resolute.  The residents of Crook County simply can’t ask for a handshake agreement when it comes to water rights and usage.  Those changes must come from the legislature on a state level through the Wyoming Water Development commission, the state legislature, as well as the State Engineers office.  Unfortunately, they have made all the rules that the City of Gillette must follow, or risk losing those precious water rights. It is prudent for the City to be cautious, as they don’t have the authority to overwrite existing water law simply because it’s the “neighborly” thing to do.  Working with the legislature and those other entities is the prudent approach to avoid future litigation and possible repayment of the tax payer funded loans that paid for that project should someone, anyone decide to sue in the future for a water use violation. That being said, the City still needs to be a good neighbor for the inconvenience to these residents. They were compensated for their inconvenience and their property, but probably more than anyone imagined. If it is determined that they can’t have water their taxes didn’t pay for, then monetary compensation or an alternative assist to some other water supply (one time well drilling) could be an option to help make them feel whole again.


Ward I (4-year) Councilor Candidate Terry Sjolin

The Madison pipeline issue is a complex problem, which I believe didn’t have to be. The most recent presentation on the history of the Madison and the current issues was a good first step towards educating the public. It appears much of the discussions have taken place outside the public forum. A large amount of money has been spent on research into the well issues that some Crook County residents are experiencing to determine whether the City is liable, but I believe that money would have been better spent on a solution to the problem. Of course, it is the City of Gillette’s responsibility to protect the regional water project and to ensure the funding received from both the Capital Facilities Tax and state grant funds are being used appropriately to complete the project and provide a reliable water system to Gillette residents. However, several solutions have been proposed, but none that have been accepted. I think it would be appropriate at this point for the City of Gillette, the Crook County residents who are affected and the Wyoming Water Development Commission to meet and formulate a solution. It should ensure the grant conditions will not be violated, the citizens of Gillette will receive water at a fair cost and the residents of Crook County get their problems solved. A willingness to compromise and find civility should be the goal from this point going forward. As neighbors, we need to work together for the benefit of all affected in northeast Wyoming.

Ward I (4-year) Councilor Candidate Shawn Neary

While the city may not be liable for any of the problems, as councilor, how would you work with landowners impacted by projects that the city is involved in designing and constructing?

  • There are many contracts that have been signed and I believe that the City and landowners need to abide by the agreed upon and signed contracts.

When does the city have an obligation to help residents outside the city?

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  • If the city or the contractor hired by the city fails to live up to any negotiated contracts, then we as a city need to make things right by the agreed and signed contract(s).

Has the council handled the Madison situation responsibly for everyone involved?

  • The council has been very diligent in upholding the existing agreements and contracts in regard to the Madison situation.  There are many moving parts to this matter, but if the appropriate state agencies would give the City the permission to start pumping water from the wells, I think some of the current issues could be resolved.

 

 

 

 

Originally from New Mexico, Killough began his career writing freelance for a weekly magazine in Albuquerque while completing his undergraduate degree. In addition to reporting on uranium mining in western New Mexico, he spent three years reporting in western North Dakota during the height of the oil boom. He can be reached at kevin@county17.com or 701-641-6603.