Tribal Council Votes ‘No’ on Water Rate Increase
By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune
The Hoopa Valley Tribal Council voted unanimously on Monday, March 24, against a Public Utilities District (PUD) plan that would have increased water rates by $5 per year for three years.
Water customers in the Hoopa Valley pay some of the lowest monthly rates in the nation.
Regular users in the Hoopa Valley currently get 10,000 gallons of water for $16 per month and elders get 5,000 gallons for $11. Customers in the rest of Humboldt County typically pay over three times the money for that amount of water.
Barbara Ferris, HVPUD General Manager, said, “We’re in a deficit and we’re losing close to $200,000 each year for water treatment.”
In Willow Creek, the minimum monthly charge for water users is based on the size of their meter with the lowest cost set at $36.30 per month with 750 cubic feet of water (around 5,610 gallons) included.
Willow Creek users are also charged $1.65 for each additional 100 cubic feet (748 gallons), so someone using 10,000 gallons a month there pays around $46.
In Orleans, the basic rate is $35 for 10,000 gallons, and it’s been that way for at least 10 years.
Tribal Chairperson Danielle Vigil-Masten said you could see the strain on the HVPUD budget during the storm when pipes burst from the cold.
“The workers haven’t had a salary increase in a long time, and they were out there in the snowstorm fixing pipes for $12 an hour,” Vigil-Masten said.
Several audience members spoke out against the planned increase.
Marian Mattz said, “For elders, our income won’t keep up with the increases.”
Sherlette Colegrove said, “My Social Security dropped. I can’t keep up. I talked to other people on fixed incomes and they say they’ll have to cut off the water and start packing it in.”
Councilmember Wendy “Poppy” George said she could see the need for an increase from a business point of view, but added, “We need to look at ways to help subsidize this for people.”
Tribal Vice Chairman Ryan Jackson said, “With deficits of $200,000 coming out of the general fund, the people are going to pay for it one way or another.”
Every member of the Council ended up voting against the planned increase, and water rates will stay the same for now.
Council members also voted to put off the social media policy amendment to their personnel policy. It would have set penalties for non-work-related social media use during working hours, as well as requiring tribal employees to post disclaimers on their personal Facebook pages that they weren’t speaking on behalf of the Tribe.
George said, “Social media is awesome, but when we pay people to come here to work we don’t want them to spend three hours of the day talking about their personal issues online with their friends.”
Jackson said, “There are a lot of concerns over tribal members’ freedom of speech; people feel uncomfortable having to put disclaimers on their own personal page.”
Jackson said, “I don’t think we need a social media policy for managers to stop people in their department from being on Facebook instead of working.”
The Council decided to look into making changes to the social media policy and will vote on an updated version at the next meeting.
Margaret Lee Moon’s request to relinquish her membership in the Hoopa Valley Tribe was approved. She will be enrolling in the Bear River Rancheria.
The Council also approved the enrollment of 13 new tribal members. The total tribal membership is now 3,173.
Despite some misgivings from George about “paying money to keep bad memories of occupation by the army,” the Council voted to approve restoration of the historic Adobe House; the last surviving building from Fort Gaston.
Hupa warriors fought a guerilla war against occupying U.S. Army forces stationed at Fort Gaston, until a peace treaty was signed in 1864. The treaty recognized Hupa sovereignty, and established the 12-mile by 12-mile Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation.
Councilmember Byron Nelson Jr. said, “It’s part of our history.”
Vigil-Masten and Councilmember Shane McCullough reported on their exploration visit to the biomass pellet plant in Mill City, Oregon. The plant takes scrap wood from timber operations, removes all of the moisture, and crushes it into small pellets that can be burned to make electricity.
“With our pellets and biomass, it would be feasible to create our own electricity,” McCullough said, adding that other tribes have managed to drop electricity prices by half or more by running their own plants.
Vigil-Masten said that a pellet plant would bring a total of 120 jobs to the Hoopa Valley, and that the Tribe wouldn’t have to put up any of the money to start the project.
“There’s a lot of money to be made off of excess scrap timber instead of just burning it”, Vigil-Masten said.
The Tribal Council plans to present the pellet mill idea to the general tribal membership – along with video of a pellet mill in operation – during the Tribe’s general meeting on Sunday, April 27 at 1 pm.