State Senate Candidate Responses: How would you resolve the issues with the Madison Water Supply Project?

(Gillette, Wyo.) Senate districts 1 and 23 in Campbell County have contested races this year.

As part of our goal here at County 17 of informing voters for the upcoming primaries, we are sending out unique questions for each candidate in those races to let you better know your candidates.

The primaries are Aug. 21.

Previous responses:

Why whould people elect you to represent them in the Wyoming Legislature?

How do you plan to balance the time requirements with your own career or life?

How will mineral taxes impact wyoming’s future?

How do you propose the legislature fund school construction?

How can the legislature address school funding?

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The Madison Water Supply Project is a vital piece of infrastructure and one of the most complex projects Campbell County and the city of Gillette have undertaken in the past 20 years. Crook County residents have complained about reclamation and impacts to wells. These residents are requesting access the system for their residential and agricultural water needs. The city argues it hasn’t been proven to be responsible for the well problems, and permitting agricultural use falls outside the designations for the state appropriations, which could result in the state demanding the city repay over $100 million it appropriated for the project. So far, the city and these residents have not been able to find a solution. It’s possible the state will have to step in. If so, what steps, if any, should the legislature take to resolve the dispute? (limit 500 words)

Ogden Driskill (District 01)

I am very familiar with the Madison situation.  First, I will correct a few misstatements in the question.

  1. The effected residents in Crook County (landowners) already have taps in place on an existing 8” line that is already built. Part of the taps are active, some are paid for and inactive and some are in place and not paid for or active.  To turn on water and have tap fees and water paid for leaves Gillette intact with no new expense.
  2. Existing water rights and prior law in Wyoming allow for use of livestock water from the original Madison wells. All the City of Gillette needs to do is to allow the use.
  3. That the City would have to repay money is a pure lie. The contract they have is with the water development commission and the State of Wyoming and both have made it clear that they WANT to have the effected landowners to have access to livestock water and have proposed an amendment that would do just that.
  4. The City of Gillette has been unwilling to propose ANY solution other than they will not do anything.

With that being said there are two very separate issues.  The first is problems with landowners in how construction problems and performance of contractors hired by the City of Gillette.  There has been everything from dead livestock, weed problems, trespass problems, contract performance problems—the list goes on and on.  The City of Gillette is unwilling to force contractors to work within their contract and have told the landowners to tough it out until the contact is completed and then they will deal with problems.  This is a problem between landowners and the city and has little to do with legislation or the state.

The second problem asked about—access to water for residents that have had wells go bad or have lost livestock water could be solved tomorrow by the City of Gillette agreeing to provide livestock water to less than 10 landowners by an amendment to their water use agreements.  As far as to being responsible for problems–I have never accused the City of Gillette of causing the problems.  What I have said is that they should be a “Good Neighbor” and provide water to the effected landowners—which they could do at little or no cost to the City of Gillette.  Any legislative solution should involve the City of Gillette, the State of Wyoming, and landowners that do not have potable water.  The solution should have all parties having skin in the game and should not have a major economic impact on other parties.  With that being said—to this point the City of Gillette has been unwilling to deal in any fashion.  They have never made a counter proposal or came up with a single solution.  The only way to have a positive outcome for all is for all to sit at the table and reach a compromise that benefits all.

Judy McCullough (District 01)

This could be solved peacefully.  If Carlile people would form a water district and Gillette would drill a Madison well (not the size the city needs), permit it to the Carlile district and turn over all ownership, repair, maintenance and putting in their own pipelines to them, Carlile would have water.  Gillette would not have their water going to those who were not in the designated region.  It would not mess up the cities permits, Cap Tax money, or put in livestock use of their water permitted for residential use.  It would maintain good relations between the state, Gillette and Carlile.  To be clear, the Gillette water wells belong to the Gillette Regional water system.  The Madison water belongs to the state.  It would work, but with everyone so mad and Gillette City so defensive, I am not sure now.  Yes, doing that would cost the city, but where is its contingency plan for inadvertently causing a wreck?  Yes, the city argues it isn’t proven they caused the well problems, but they are the “elephant in the room”.

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If the state has to step in, the Carlile people will still have to form a water district and apply for a Madison well.  Since most of the Wyoming legislators thought Regional Water System meant Regional because that was how it was sold to them, I believe that they will do what it takes to get water for Carlile residents.

Lenard D. Seely (District 01)

Candidate did not respond to questionnaire.


Jeff Raney (District 23)

(No photo provided.)

Candidate did not respond to this question.

Jeff Wasserburger (District 23)

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At least for me, the following things must be applied to the issues that the Madison project faces at this time. First, everyone needs to stop throwing mud balls at one another and wait until the study is completed on wells M11-M15.  When the study is complete, then the City of Gillette and the citizens of Crook County can move forward and solve this issue.  If the City of Gillette has wronged the landowners in Crook County in any way, we should make them whole again.  The Madison project is approximately $20 million dollars under budget.  There is enough money available to take care of any issue that may have been created by the Gillette wells.

Secondly, I would propose a repeal of the amendment that created this entire issue and return to the original language in the bill sponsored by the Select Water Committee.  The City of Gillette cannot comply with the amendment for many different reasons.  Many of those reasons include the following: the people of Gillette passed a excise sales tax to pay for the Madison project, the money cannot be used to pay for water for Crook County residents and it is unfair to the people of Gillette to have to do so.  Crook County never taxed them selves but we did and they shouldn’t be allowed to use that water after we paid for it.  Wyoming law requires that municipal water projects be used for municipalities and not for agriculture and vice versa—so it is contrary to current state statutes.

Furthermore, the average household in Gillette uses about 120,000 gallons of water a year, to allow the citizens of Crook County to use 1,000,000 gallons per year per tap for 200 taps at a lower price than the citizens of Gillette are paying is wrong.  Wyoming water law requires that all people receiving municipal water should be charged the  same amount and if Crook County residents get Madison project water they should pay the same as Gillette residents.  They will find out that water in Gillette is not cheap.  Finally, providing Crook County residents with water under the terms of the provision is inconsistent with the Gillette Regional Water Supply Joint Powers Agreement.  The City of Gillette has signed a contract to this and it can’t and shouldn’t be changed.

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.