On the verge of a possible breakthrough to a promising new source of water, the Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District (PSWID) board of directors has been rendered ineffective by resignations.
"Things have come to a screeching halt by the resignation of two of the remaining four board members," John Breninger, one of the remaining board members, said. "What that does is put us below a quorum so there's not a legal basis for the board to meet, act and conduct business."
Board members Mary Lou Myers and Marvin Mortensen resigned Aug. 1, leaving Breninger and Betty Gooder as the only two members on the board. Former board members Bill Johnson and Gary Hezel resigned several months ago, leaving the board with a bare quorum of four.
Breninger believes the resignations were timed to allow the county board of supervisors to tilt PSWID in the direction of area Realtors and developers who would like to buy out Brooke Utilities, the parent company of Pine Water Company and Strawberry Water Company.
Myers told the Roundup she had no comment on her resignation, but Mortensen was willing to discuss the subject.
"John doesn't really know why I resigned," he said. "My letter says it was for health and personal reasons. I just came from (District 1 Supervisor Ron) Christensen's office because I wanted to explain to him those personal reasons. From a health standpoint, I was getting concerned because I'm supposed to avoid stress and it was becoming stressful to me."
Mortensen said he is actually opposed to a takeover of Brooke Utilities by the PSWID. He said he thinks Breninger may have gotten the idea that he favored a takeover because he voted for a study to investigate the option.
The Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District is different from the four domestic water improvement districts in the Pine-Strawberry area which sell water to individual subdivisions.
"We are not a purveyor of water," Breninger said. "Our charter is that we're basically responsible for supplying a long-term, reliable water supply for the communities. If we were to ever sell water, it would be as a wholesaler."
Late last year, the PSWID sanctioned a hydrogeological engineering study that purported to find a new source of groundwater -- more than enough to meet the summer demand of Pine and Strawberry -- and where to drill for it.
At a meeting last month, Breninger told a large audience that the total estimated cost of developing the new water would be about $4.2 million.
While Mortensen is optimistic about the findings in the hydrogeological study, he, too, expressed concern about the wisdom of plunging ahead.
"One of (the board's) primary purposes was to just find a source of water," he said. "(The study) doesn't prove there's water, but we're reasonably confident. My concern beyond this point is what do we do now that we've located water. From all the information I could gather, I felt it might be best at this point to just let the county deal with it."
The future of the PSWID is in Christensen's hands, Breninger said. While the supervisor mulls his options, which include appointing a temporary administrator and/or new board members, Breninger is tending to getting the hydrogeological study wrapped up.
"I still have a delegation from the board I operate under, so I will push for completion of the contract with the hydrologist and his report, and the delivery of it and distribution of it."
Breninger does not believe the resignations will slow progress on the new water source -- at least not right away.
Four seats on the PSWID board will be on the ballot in November of 2004.