New Ute water project program manager in place

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson Former Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System Project Manager Scott Verhines, left, applies a ceremonial water project pin to new Project Manager Paul van Gulick during the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority meeting Tuesday in Melrose. Van Gulick will serve until at least June 30 to fill the place of Verhines, who is taking over as state engineer.

Kevin Wilson

The Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority on Tuesday cut its ties with longtime Program Manager Scott Verhines, clearing the way for him to fill the office of state engineer.

He was replaced with Paul van Gulick, an engineer who worked with Verhines when he first started working on the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System, also known as the Ute Water Project.

Van Gulick, currently a resident of Ruidoso Downs, collected water system information from authority members, coauthored a data collection summary report and conceptual design report in 2000 and designed much of the infrastructure for the project — which would pump water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to authority members in Curry and Roosevelt counties. Both counties are part of the authority, along with Clovis, Portales, Texico, Melrose, Elida and Grady.

Van Gulick plans to move to Albuquerque in the coming months and will take over Verhines’ duties as lead engineer for Occam Consulting Engineers, which provides management and other services for the authority for $400,000 annually.

“I share the passion (for the project); it’s all (Verhines and I) talk about,” van Gulick said. “This project is going to be a real vanguard in this state.”

Verhines said van Gulick should provide a smooth transition and is energetic about coming back into the fold. After he met with Occam staff Friday in Albuquerque, Verhines said he got four calls from van Gulick over the next 16 hours with thoughts he wanted to add — and all of the thoughts were good ideas. Upon hearing that story, Vice Chair Sharon King jokingly suggested offering Chair Gayla Brumfield’s cell phone number for such instances.

Authority member Darrel Bostwick said it was a pleasure to work with Verhines over the last decade and while he hated to see him leave the authority, his new position was the best possible outcome for the authority.

Brumfield echoed those sentiments.

“We’ve got an advocate where we need an advocate,” Brumfield said. “We’ll certainly have you on speed dial.”

In other business at the meeting:

• State activities consultant Joe Thompson said the biggest focus heading into the 2012 Legislature was “getting ready for a life without Scott,” including getting van Gulick into the fold, making a small capital outlay request and continuing to work with the water trust board.

• Federal consultant John Ryan said a recent Washington, D.C. trip showed that it’s going to be a maze to get federal funding over the next few years.

“It’s hard to tell if we’re making progress,” Ryan said. “At each step, we do tell them something they didn’t necessarily know.”

Ryan said the key is to be ready to protect the project’s interest at all times. Legislation is being put together right now to prioritize rural water projects in upcoming federal budgets, but a recent amendment offered by an out-of-state senator would have put the Ute Water Project last out of seven rural water projects for funding priorities.

“You can create criteria that supports what you want to fund anyway, and eliminate the others,” Ryan said.

He was optimistic the water project would receive money in the 2013 budget.

• Verhines said the project has completed what should be its final environmental study, meaning construction can take place any time funding is secured.

“There are some things we’ll have to do during construction (to satisfy the report requirements),” Verhines said. “There’s not out of reason; they’re typical for a project like this.”

• The next meeting is scheduled for 11 a.m. Jan. 23 at the Rio Chama restaurant in Santa Fe, during the legislative session.