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PUCN denies water company appeal

CARSON CITY – A deadline to reprice Spring Creek water bills looms for Great Basin Water Company as their appeal for a rehearing failed before the Public Utilities Commission.

PUCN denied GBWC’s appeal Nov. 8. The decision comes as the water company has until Nov. 21 to calculate refunds to Spring Creek customers affected by a water meter reading issue in 2016.

GBWC was ordered by the commission Sept. 19 to resolve a water meter reading issue for Spring Creek water customers and begin repairing customer relations.

In that order, the PUCN denied the water company’s stance that the issue was resolved “consistent with its tariff.”

The company was given 60 days from the issuance of the order to reprice water bills for residential customers at $3.47 per 1,000 gallons between January and October 2016. It excluded commercial customers, customers who had their bills previously adjusted, and customers who have a smart water meter.

On Oct. 5, the GBWC filed a petition to rehear and/or reconsider the order. In a statement, Wendy Barnett, GBWC president, said the company took “responsibility for the situation; however we do have some questions about the order.”

The company further stated they were “asking the Commission to reconsider the preponderance of evidence presented in the initial proceedings on the matter.”

In reading the PUCN’s order, Commission Ann C. Pongracz stated GBWC failed to meet the standards of the Nevada Administration Code that requires the company to specifically identify parts of the order that were “unlawful, unreasonable, or based on erroneous conclusions of law or mistaken facts” and show why additional evidence “could not have been introduced at the hearing.”

“Rather, the petitioner seeks to reargue the matters already considered and decided … Great Basin simply asks the Commission to change its mind,” Pongracz said.

Chairman Joe Reynolds said he supported the Spring Creek customers and believed the order was “the right thing to do,” and noted the outpouring of residents’ complaints at two PUCN consumer sessions in April and September.

“We needed a remedy,” Reynolds said, “…there needed to be a fix to the problem.”

“This problem was created by Great Basin Water Company, whether it was their employee, lack of supervision, [or] lack of training. They created this problem,” said Reynolds.

“I disagree [with] the assertion that this was retroactive rate-making,” Reynolds said. “It was solving a problem that needed to be solved for the benefit of those residents.”

Commissioner Bruce Breslow also sympathized with Spring Creek customers.

“I hope the problems are over and I hope the solutions are happening quickly, because the people of Spring Creek have been dealing with this a long time,” Breslow said. “I hope it does not come back to us.”

Present at the hearing, but not voting, was Utilities Hearing Officer Donald Lomoljo. Lomoljo presided at the PUCN consumers meeting in September.

Before Wednesday’s ruling on Oct. 30, the GBWC filed a notice of intent with the PUCN to file for adjustment in rates. The company cited four reasons including investment in utility facilities, operating and depreciation expenses, cost of capital, and cost of service, noting they are not preparing a cost of services study for the meeting.

GBWC proposes to meet with the PUCN staff in early December before the company files its application on Dec. 29.

Great Basin Water Company did not respond to a request for a statement.

GBWC deadlines

The petition for rehearing and/or reconsideration did not change the timeline of the original order for Great Basin Water Co.

GBWC has until Nov. 15 to submit the steps they are taking to improve customer relations, which they must do annually until 2020, and they have 150 days to show they have complied with the order’s requirements.

GBWC was ordered to “reprice each Spring Creek customer’s water bill for the months of January through October, 2016, at the lowest Tier 1 rate of $3.47 per 1,000 gallons” within 60 days of the Sept. 21 order.

By Dec. 21, the company is required to submit a report outlining its compliance with the repricing, provide a status of accounts and options offered by GBWC, and submit a report showing the costs the company incurred to prepare for and participate in the docket.

A quote by Chairman Joe Reynolds was corrected from a previous version. 

VFW cross back for the holidays

ELKO – A longtime fixture on the Lamoille Summit returned Wednesday night when the cross on “E” hill was back on in time for Veterans Day and Thanksgiving.

Damaged beyond repair by fire in September, the VFW lights that have been a fixture on Lamoille Summit since the mid-1970s have been updated with LED lights and new parts, four years after the cross was rebuilt to replace worn cables and parts.

Bringing the cross back has been a “labor of love” for the VFW, said Joe Rigsby, light committee chairman, explaining that if the lights had not been moved into the sagebrush to avoid getting run over by trucks of people coming in to paint the “E” the cross would not have burned.

“It wasn’t lying where it was supposed to be,” Rigsby said.

This time when the cross is lit for the holidays, it will be with about 248 LED bulbs donated by Steve Tenney, manager of Nevada Advertising.

“They are low-wattage and high-energy,” said Tenney.

“They have LED on the Carlin ‘C,’” said Tenny. “You don’t realize how much difference there is. It’s night and day.”

Since 1974, the VFW has been in charge of the lights on the summit, first spelling “VFW” in honor of the VFW’s state convention, according to Free Press files. Over the years, the lights formed a Christmas tree, star and cross, most recently spelling “100” in honor of the City of Elko’s centennial.

Rigsby said in previous years the VFW members would string the lights display and take it apart each year. When the cross was rebuilt in 2013, all it took to light it was a flip of the switch.

Stringing the lights is also a precarious job for the veterans who do the work because of the steep hill.

“It’s dangerous up there,” Rigsby said. “You can slip and fall walking to it because it’s all shale.”

The committee is also considering lighting the cross once a month and for other special occasions or in remembrance of victims after a tragedy like in Las Vegas in October, said Rigsby.

“First thing I thought about …” Rigsby said. “That’s the one time we should have [lit the cross] and we couldn’t.”

“It would have unified our support,” Rigsby added.

Although the cross was rebuilt in the last two months thanks to donations from businesses and individuals in the community, the VFW is seeking donations to go into their reserve fund for maintenance and repair of the cross, said Rigsby, especially if there is vandalism or other damage to the bulbs.

“We’re putting up stuff that is weatherproof and will last awhile,” Rigsby said.

Thomas Ingersoll, Elko Church of the Nazarene assistant pastor, said since he moved to Elko almost 27 years ago the cross has made an impact to people who see it driving on Interstate 80

“I have talked to people at the fuel stations on the Interstate – it’s a symbol of hope,” Ingersoll said. “I have had people tell me that it is one of the neatest things they’ve ever seen.”

Ingersoll brought the need to his church, which raised $561 for the cross.

Nearly $10,000 in donations rebuilt the cross including, $4,000 from Ellison Electric for labor, $500 from Nevada Advertising for the bulbs, and cables from Codale Electric Supply Inc.

Cash donations were from Ellison, Elko Church of the Nazarene, Lee and Lynne Hoffman, Jim and Jerry Cooney, Christa and Jeffery Secord, and Reece and Tami Keener.

When Rigsby looks at the cross, he said he is reminded of his fellow servicemen and women. “I think of my brothers, my sisters, my veterans that served me – some came home, some didn’t.”

“This cross means so much to us and if it goes, it’s gone forever,” Ellison said.

Donations to the VFW can be taken to Ellison Electric, Codale Electric Supply, and Nevada Advertising. For volunteers wishing to help with the lights on the hill, contact Rigsby at 778-5257.

The article was corrected for quotes and to accurately describe Codale Electric Supply's donation. 

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The Latest: Nevada execution postponed over paralytic drug
The Latest: Nevada execution postponed over paralytic drug

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada’s first inmate execution in 11 years was postponed Thursday after a state court judge ordered a paralytic drug removed from a never-before-used lethal injection plan that also includes the first use by a state of the powerful opioid fentanyl.

Prisons chief James Dzurenda called off the execution that had been set for Tuesday for twice-convicted murderer Scott Raymond Dozier after a solicitor for the state attorney general’s office said the order would be appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court, prisons spokeswoman Brooke Keast said.

Dozier has given up appeals and repeatedly told Clark County District Court Judge Jennifer Togliatti he wants his death sentence carried out.

The judge said before issuing her order that she was “loath to stop” the process but was concerned the state plan to administer the three drugs could leave Dozier aware of pain and struggling with “air-hunger.”

The state had planned to administer the muscle paralytic cisatracurium after injecting Dozier with high doses of the sedative diazepam and with fentanyl to depress and stop his breathing,

The judge pointed to testimony last week from Dr. David Waisel, a Harvard University anesthesia professor and pediatric anesthesiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital. He said the paralytic should not be needed if the other two drugs are delivered properly in the lethal amounts in the state protocol.

“It’s for the Supreme Court to decide,” Togliatti said Thursday. “They’re going to have to be the court to make that determination that we as a state are OK with a paralytic.”

Togliatti said the execution could go forward with a two-drug combination. But, “If the state of Nevada is not comfortable with the fentanyl and diazepam alone, then it supports the argument that (cisatracurium) is being used for a mask and he could suffer,” she said.

Dozier’s execution can still happen once the state Supreme Court rules, Togliatti said.

She set a Dec. 7 date to check the status of the case.

Waisel was hired by David Anthony, a deputy federal public defender who Dozier allowed to review the untried three-drug protocol.

Anthony contended the paralytic was being used not as a substitute for a heart-stopping drug like most death-penalty states use, but to prevent witnesses from seeing if Dozier experiences an unconstitutionally inhumane death.

Assistant state Solicitor General Jordan Smith did not present testimony from Dr. John DiMuro, an anesthesiologist and the state’s chief medical officer who developed the diazepam-fentanyl-cisatracurium protocol.

DiMuro resigned last week from his position as the state’s top doctor, but provided an affidavit to the court saying his departure had nothing to do with Dozier’s execution.

DiMuro’s brother and lawyer, Christopher DiMuro, said his brother carried out an assignment to develop an execution method using drugs that Nevada could obtain.

Invoice records show the drugs were delivered in late May to Nevada prisons from the usual pharmacy supplier, Cardinal Health, at a cost of $482.52. A Cardinal Health spokeswoman didn’t directly say whether the pharmaceutical wholesaler knew the intended use for the drugs.

John DiMuro wouldn’t agree to an interview, Christopher DiMuro said, but he wouldn’t disagree with Waisel that the paralytic could be unnecessary if the first two drugs are properly delivered at fatal doses.

“John is not on one side or another about the death penalty,” the brother said from New Jersey.

Dozier also used the name Chad Wyatt. He would become the first person put to death in Nevada since 2006, when Daryl Mack asked to be put to death for his conviction in a 1988 rape and murder in Reno.

His would be the first lethal injection in a new execution chamber at Ely State Prison, 250 miles north of Las Vegas. It was completed in November 2016 at a cost of about $854,000.

Ken Ritter  

Nevada death row inmate Scott Dozier confers with a federal public defender in August.

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Former catering supervisor arrested for embezzlement

ELKO – Elko police arrested a former casino food service worker Wednesday on a warrant charging multiple counts of embezzlement.

Sergio A. Estrada, 29, of Elko allegedly embezzled funds from December 2016 through July 2017 while he was employed at Stockmen’s. He targeted several parties, beginning with the Elko Rotary Club, according to Lt. Mike Palhegyi.

Estrada is accused of taking the checks and cash given to him by individuals and depositing them into his personal account at Wells Fargo.

Court documents said Estrada is suspected of making several deposits totaling more than $10,000. Investigators met with eight people who said they gave Estrada the money as deposits for events and receptions at the Stockmen’s.

Estrada worked at the Stockmen’s as a catering supervisor and was placed on administrative leave in July, after a report from the Sunrise Rotary bookkeeper that the Stockmen’s did not receive five of the club’s checks totaling $1,203.93.

Estrada denied that he accepted the checks despite photocopies presented by Elko police officers. He failed to show up for a subsequent police interview, according to Palhegyi, so a warrant was issued for his arrest.

On checks allegedly deposited in the suspects’ account, the word “Stockmen’s’” was crossed out and replaced with the suspect’s name, court documents say.

One victim told police Estrada took $3,000 as a deposit in March for an event in September, but received it back after he called her and told her he wasn’t working at the Stockmen’s.

Estrada faces two counts of embezzlement of over $3,500, four counts of intent to utter a fictional bill and check, and three counts of embezzlement ranging from $650 to $3,500. Bail is $90,000.