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Honoring the fallen: Vietnam War Memorial arrives in Elko

ELKO – Cold, wet weather did not stop Elkoans from paying tribute to fallen servicemen and women of the Vietnam War.

More than 50 people attended the opening ceremony Sept. 21 of the traveling Vietnam memorial wall that included a presentation of colors by the VFW Color Guard, prayers, speeches and bagpipes played by Roger MacGregor.

The wall, a replica of the larger Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., stretches 360 feet and lists the names of servicemen and women who died in the Vietnam War, including six Elkoans.

“This is powerful,” said Michael Russell, whose father and two uncles served in the military during war. Russell said he came to the wall to find Raymond, a friend of his father and a Marine who didn’t survive.

Relying on “stories that are a lot older than I am,” Russell said Raymond was a Native American from St. Mary’s, Idaho, who joined the U.S. Marine Corps. and was killed by a land mine.

“I understand he wasn’t there very long,” Russell said. “I get a sense he wanted to do something for his county, otherwise he wouldn’t have went.”

Russell said he “came to honor him, even though I didn’t know him.”

“I think it’s important that we remember [them],” Russell said. “They can’t have a beer, they can’t enjoy … they didn’t get to come home.”

Another visitor to the wall, Jan, who did not disclose her last name, said she was “impressed” and “amazed” with the wall and was hoping to find some people she knew.

Volunteers will be on hand 24/7 to guard the wall and provide assistance in finding names for visitors.

Presented by the American Veterans Traveling Tribute, the wall’s arrival completed a three-part commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.

The Daughters of the American Revolution Ruby Mountain Chapter and VFW Auxiliary organized a welcome home parade and dinner for Vietnam Vets, and commissioned the minting of challenge coins and a metal art sculpture.

“Nevadans are blessed to have the opportunity to interact with this great monument and feel the awe that visitors feel in Washington, D.C., in its presence,” Jacque Orr, DAR member, said.

Jerry Charleton, president of the VFW Auxiliary, thanked donors for contributing to bringing the wall to Elko.

“If it weren’t for the donations, the VFW Auxiliary Post 2350 and the Daughters of the American could not have brought you the Vietnam wall,” Charlton said. “I thank you.”

The wall will be at the park until 3 p.m. Sunday.

For information, call Vi Larkin at 934-6150.

Spring Creek residents still face utility struggles

SPRING CREEK – More than 150 customers of Elko and Spring Creek utility companies voiced complaints in a general consumer meeting that took Great Basin Water Company and Frontier Communications to task for continued billing issues and service problems.

Representatives from the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada and Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection made their second trip to Spring Creek in five months. The first meeting was for water issues alone, but Wednesday’s meeting was Elko County residents’ opportunity to present other utility concerns to the panel in a general session.

The meeting came on the heels of a PUCN decision Tuesday that ordered GBWC to begin calculating refunds for customers affected by meter reading and billing inconsistencies for most of 2016.

The general consumer session was also in response to Assembly Bill 109 requiring the PUCN to make annual visits to rural counties. Introduced by state Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, and Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, it failed to pass in the legislature in June.

Despite the bill’s defeat, the PUCN chose to add Elko County to its list of annual visits, said Donald J. Lomoljo, PUCN utilities hearing officer.

“We heard that message loud and clear,” said Lomoljo, “and that’s why we’re here tonight.”

Joining Lomoljo on the panel was Laura Tucker, deputy attorney general with the BCP in the Attorney General’s office. Only there to listen and take notes, she explained to the audience her office “represents the small rate payer including residential and small-business ratepayers and customers of Spring Creek utilities.”

Most of the 16 attendees who offered remarks focused on water service, touched on issues including customer service, metering and rates, some of whom, including Pamela Alfred, live on a fixed income.

Caught off guard by rising costs, Alfred, a retiree who has lived in Spring Creek for eight years, says she monitors her water use carefully, taking measures including reusing bathwater to quench thirsty potted plants.

Alfred also described how one day, a boy came to ask if she would hire him to work in her yard. She declined but was touched by his story. He said his family asked him to go find work so they could pay their high water bill.

“That is obscene to say the least,” she said.

Resident Logan Smith took his water bills to the lectern, saying he owned about $750 for one month’s use. GBWC charged him for approximately 150,000 gallons, which he said he, as a single dad and mine shift worker without landscaping, could not have used.

“I would have a lake in my front yard or my weeds would grow,” he said, adding that he has neither.

When he asserted that the water company told him to check for leaks but would not check his meter, the PUCN representative responded that he could file a complaint with consumer protection. He said he would.

Another resident, however, said he had never had trouble with high bills. Jeremy Bell explained that he has a hot tub and pool. The month that he filled his pool, the water bill came to $70. Some audience members gasped.

“Everybody’s water meter is reading a different size of a gallon, I guess,” he said.

Other concerns raised included the dysfunction of fire hydrants and the resulting threat to public safety; the effect of high water costs on property values as residents cut back water use on landscaping; slow internet speeds; infrastructure improvement needs; and the impact of shoddy landline phone service on the county’s 911 emergency call system, which recently went out for several hours.

Ellison lauded the PUCN for visiting Elko County to create a forum for utility consumers.

“You’ve come to the table for the people of Spring Creek,” he said, but asked what is next, now that the commission has learned of the people’s grievances under GBWC.

“My biggest fear is, what are we going to do in the near future?” he asked, citing concerns about the possibility that GBWC’s growing costs might be passed down to consumers.

Goicoechea suggested a solution: “At some point, we need to look at some type of public utility.”

Spring Creek Association President Jessie Bahr thanked the commission for paying attention to “the little guy.”

“As you can see, the people have had enough,” she said, referring to the citizens attending the session at the Spring Creek High School gym.

These “little guys” have big concerns about utilities’ services. Bahr said the top three complaints of Spring Creek residents that she hears through the association are in regards to water, internet and roads.

Although the PUCN has jurisdiction of only one of those concerns — water — a representative from the state’s BCP took notes on issues pertaining to internet service. The PUCN also has reach over telephone service, which is provided to much of the area through Frontier Communications. Frontier is also Spring Creek’s sole broadband provider.

The information gathered from the consumer session will be reviewed, especially issues that are coming to the attention of the PUCN for the first time, Lomoljo said after adjourning the session.

“If there are issues we don’t know about, obviously this is where we find out about them and start looking into them,” Lomoljo said.

The PUCN will return to Elko when GBWC files its rate case in a few months.