Opinion: It’s time to do the water deal

When it comes to Henderson’s water contract with the Army Corps of Engineers, we have to agree with City Council member John Wester: We don’t get it.

We don’t get why Wester and Mayor Clem Seifert, and perhaps other longtime members of the city government, are so eager to fight the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

We don’t get why a water storage contract that was hardly worth worrying about in April, when the price was predicted to be $4 million to $5 million, is worth using all our political capital in Congress and/or trying to sue the federal government when the actual charge is $3.455 million.

We don’t get what possible legal grounds the city and its regional partners, Oxford and Warrant County, could have for suing. A federal agency was slow? It wasn’t fair? Uncle Sam would spend every waking hour in court if those were valid reasons to sue. Of course, we can’t know the reasons because any discussion of a lawsuit would come in a closed session of the City Council.

We don’t get why Wester can say that Thursday’s meeting with the Army Corps of Engineers brought to light nothing new, but he also can tell The Daily Dispatch that the meeting forced the corps to put all its cards on the table while the Kerr Lake Regional Water System has cards left to play.

We don’t get why Wester was upset with council member Elissa Yount, his opponent in the Oct. 11 elections, for revealing details about what was discussed at Thursday’s meeting if the gathering in Wilmington brought nothing new to light. What’s wrong with trying to keep the public as informed as possible about the water contract?

We don’t get why Wester complained about Yount’s possibly revealing Henderson’s strategies and hurting its chances of success when Yount didn’t get into any potential city actions other than those Wester, Seifert and others have mentioned repeatedly: congressional intervention; lawsuit; or acceptance.

(We also don’t get why our friends at The Daily Dispatch wouldn’t refer to HomeinHenderson by name in its day-late report on Monday night’s water debate, given that Yount’s submission to this site is what set Wester off. For now, we’re still the blog that shall remain nameless.)

We don’t get why anyone should expect divine — oops, we mean congressional — intervention now when a succession of representatives has been unable to do anything about the contract over the years and when the best vehicle for action, the Water Resources Development Act, moved through the House with the specific understanding that nobody would get special treatment, no matter how deserving.

We don’t get why Seifert is willing to go to jail — that’s what he told Yount on Monday during the Speak Up Henderson forum — to resist the strong-arm tactics of the corps. He wants Congress to write a check to cover whatever price the corps sets, but why waste our big wish for our congressional fairy godparents on the one profitable enterprise the city has, the water system, when we have so many problems that aren’t self-supporting?

We don’t get why Wester wants to play high-stakes poker by gambling with our greatest asset, Kerr Lake water, when the payoff for the water system’s customers would seem to be so minimal. Unless we don’t get math either, it seems that as little as 40 cents a month added to each water bill would cover the corps’ demand for a water storage contract. Of course, that could change if we wait and allow interest rates and other costs to increase.

We don’t get why it’s the right thing to push ahead with a $21 million expansion of the water plant to a capacity of 20 million gallons per day — a project that we support as necessary to Henderson’s economic future — but it’s not the right thing to sign the contract with the Corps of Engineers to secure the supply of water necessary to feed that expanded plant.

Here’s what we do get: We can’t take the risk that the Corps of Engineers will cut off our Kerr Lake water supply. Not now and not in the future, when access to a plentiful supply of clean water will be increasingly important. We’ve benefited for a long time from a discount rate on our water, and that discount is coming to an end. We want to pay as little as possible for that water, and if we have the numbers to support a cut in the corps’ $3.455 million demand, let’s use them as quickly as possible. But by the end of September, we need to sign the best deal we can get and move on.