North Las Vegas to begin sewage discharge

North Las Vegas couldn’t hold it any longer.

The city said Wednesday it will start discharging treated sewage from its new wastewater treatment facility into an open Clark County-owned flood control channel despite the county’s refusal to grant permission.

In a move likely to land the two entities in court, the city on Wednesday afternoon notified the county it would start discharging effluent from the plant into the channel. Flows will start moving through the channel as early as today.

North Las Vegas “has the legal right to discharge into the Sloan Channel,” the city said in a statement released Wednesday, adding that it now “plans to exercise that right.”

The county, on the other hand, has long argued that the city must first get permission from the county.

The city and county have been feuding for months over North Las Vegas’ plan to flush treated sewage from its roughly $300 million new facility into the channel. During a contentious meeting on Tuesday, Clark County commissioners voted to again continue the matter, until July.

But North Las Vegas couldn’t wait and “will move forward … immediately to safeguard its $300 million investment,” the statement read.

North Las Vegas Mayor Shari Buck said the city has gone “above and beyond what we needed to do to try to work something out with the county.”

But Commissioner Tom Collins said the move shows the city lacks integrity.

“Why did they spend all these months asking permission and then just disregard the discussions?” he said Wednesday. “North Las Vegas from the get-go just does what they want to do and doesn’t give a flip about anybody else.”

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, whose district also includes part of the channel, said that she was shocked by the city’s decision and that it felt like “a slap in the face.”

“At some point politicians need to recognize it’s not about us, it’s about the residents,” she said. “North Las Vegas needs to stop doing business the way they’ve always done it.”

Both commissioners had fought the city’s plan to discharge about 25 million gallons of effluent a day into the channel, from where it would flow several miles into the Las Vegas Wash, then downstream to Lake Mead. North Las Vegas was foolish to build the plant in the first place, they said, and constituents walk and bike in the channel. More recently, Collins has appeared willing to compromise, but Giunchigliani hasn’t wavered in her opposition.

During Tuesday’s meeting, she said the county would be “reinforcing bad behavior” if it were to help North Las Vegas out of its bind.

The county’s legal staff is now reviewing the matter, Giunchigliani said Wednesday. Without the channel, wastewater from the new facility essentially has no place to go.

The city insists the county has known about potential plans to use the channel for years and has in the past approved plans that included using the channel as an option. The city had offered to end several other unrelated but long-simmering disputes with the county in exchange for approval.

But several commissioners said the offer sounded more like the city trying to leverage the county.

The city could not afford to wait any longer, officials there said. The facility was originally scheduled to open in May. Until it does, the city must pay Las Vegas roughly $30,000 a day to continue treating its wastewater. Also, the city must pay the bond debt on the project, which comes to about $18 million a year including interest. North Las Vegas is dealing with a $30.3 million shortfall for 2012.

The new facility includes delicate, expensive living organisms that help process the sewage and could suffer damage if the plant doesn’t open immediately, city officials said.

“The county forced the city into this position,” said Patrick Byrne, an attorney representing North Las Vegas. “This is not the road the city wanted to go. We wanted a political solution and worked very hard to get one.”

North Las Vegas decided to build its own plant in 2005 so it could control its own wastewater rates.

The city had planned to discharge the effluent via an $860 million regional pipeline, but that project was put on hold because declining growth and advances in sewage treatment had reduced the need for it.

City officials have defended the plan to use Sloan Channel instead, saying treated wastewater will be cleaner than storm water and other runoff that already flows through it.

They also say releasing effluent into the channel is no different than sending it into the Las Vegas Wash, which the valley’s other wastewater treatment facilities already do. The city also had agreed to pay the county $50,000 a year to maintain the channel.

“We’ve tried to work with the county, tried to respond to their requests and concerns, but no matter how hard we worked with them, it has not been successful,” Councilwoman Anita Wood said. “Our plant is ready to open.”

Collins recently floated the idea of finding a new way to build a pipeline — at a cost of roughly $50 million — to carry effluent along the same route.

Wood said the city remains open to looking at options for a pipeline, but “you don’t just figure out how to pay for it in 30 days,” and the plant had to open in the meantime. The new plant is located outside North Las Vegas on land leased from the Air Force at Carey Avenue, south of the base.

Critics have said it was impractical for North Las Vegas to build the plant in the first place. City officials said they wanted to be able to set their own sewer rates, and they couldn’t have foreseen the cancellation of the regional pipeline or the economy’s impending nosedive.

The decision to build the plant “was not made lightly,” Byrne said in his Wednesday letter to the county. It “was made after years of deliberate study and due diligence.”

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@review or 702-383-0285.

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