I recently read in your newspaper the statement from a San Miguel Power Association communications executive that the new 7.474 percent electric power line undergrounding surcharge was a “compromise between the local governments, San Miguel County, Tri-state and SMPA.”
This is not true with respect to the Town of Ophir, which has never agreed to the imposition of this surcharge. Currently, the Town of Ophir has a Franchise Agreement with SMPA that includes a 30-year, 10 percent surcharge that was created in 1988 to cover the expense of the relocation of the Ophir transmission line that runs through the Ophir valley. This transmission line was proposed to run directly through the middle of town, although Ophir was able to negotiate the relocation of the line to skirt the town boundaries. This was accepted by Ophir as a localized benefit for the Ophir community with no cost sharing from any other community for the line that does serve the entire region.
The Ophir community sees the undergrounding of the new transmission line across Specie and Wilson mesas, far from our view corridor, as a localized aesthetic benefit for those affluent property owners. The addition of this new surcharge would create a surcharge rate for the residents of Ophir of 17.474 percent and in the end would mean that Ophir residents will have paid a surcharge for 52 years. Ophir is a small, working-class community that by no means matches the electricity consumption of the ski area, Mountain Village or Telluride. Furthermore, San Miguel County BOCC resolution 2008-13 provided language that the towns of Mountain Village and Telluride must pass franchise agreement amendments accepting the surcharge, but Ophir was not addressed for this requirement. Ophir’s franchise agreement mandates that rates and charges be “equivalent” to charges in other towns throughout the entire SMPA Service Area, including Norwood, Nucla, Naturita, Ridgeway, Ouray and Silverton, which are not subject to the surcharge.
In the fall of 2008, the Town of Ophir was approached by SMPA regarding the acceptance of the 7.474 percent surcharge. Ophir declined due to the current 10 percent surcharge that Ophir pays and the equivalency requirement in our franchise agreement. The SMPA Board chose impose the surcharge regardless of Ophir’s opposition and franchise agreement.
For the record, SMPA’s decision was not communicated to Ophir and it was only learned that the surcharge was to be imposed on Ophir when receiving the May 2010 SMPA Energywise newsletter. Since that time Ophir has made great efforts to communicate with SMPA and attend board meetings asking, to no avail, the board to rescind their decision to impose the surcharge on Ophir. As a community, we find this surcharge to be an unfair burden on our residents as it will not benefit Ophir in the slightest. Ophir must now address whether to file a Public Utilities Commission complaint and/or file suit in district court to enforce our franchise agreement. We regret that the SMPA Board, General Manager, President and our District Representative did not fairly address Ophir’s legitimate concerns in this process.
– Randy Barnes, Ophir Town Manager