By Nathaniel A. Lopez
On Friday, Oct. 6, a town hall meeting was held in Mammoth at the Lions Club. The meeting was hosted by Pinal County District 4 Supervisor, Jeffery McClure. Those in attendance were treated to pizza, salad and beverages, served up by Supervisor McClure’s wife Barbara McClure.
The main topic of this meeting was to discuss citizen’s current power provider, San Carlos Irrigation Project.
“S.C.I.P. was started in 1924, by an Act of Congress. It was to provide water for irrigating first, then allotted to Pima Indians on Gila River Reservation. Second, other lands and public comprised ownership. In which the opinion of the secretary of the interior could be served without diminishing the supply necessary for Indian land. That’s it,” began Supervisor McClure, “The irrigation project is the Coolidge dam that holds back the San Carlos reservoir. So, it was started to hold water back with irrigation canals throughout the entire county. They go all the way across up to Maricopa County, all over the place, hundreds of miles. The dam was put into place to provide hydro-electric power for the approximately 100 water wells that are also out there that are providing water into those reservoirs. It wasn’t to provide power to homes. So that was done in 1928, when it actually started making power. There weren’t a whole lot of people out here, so they had extra power, so for a lot of that until 1939 they were supplying power up to mines in Hayden, and then a few homes and farmhouses. They never expected to have tens of thousands of homes in the county.
“In 1983, there was a big rainstorm and flood that whipped out the power station at the Coolidge Dam, so they could no longer put any power out. Then they had to start buying their power from WAPA, the Western Area Power Administration, and that’s 11 states essentially, and they give power from Hoover Dam, and other dams that are around. They (SCIP) used to get it from the generation station that was out here, then they closed that down. That was 537 Megawatts of power that they lost out on, and a couple thousand jobs, so now they have less power and they serve more people, so they had to start buying more power. They get it from WAPA. But now they don’t have enough power to supply everybody.
“WAPA runs all the other dams, their main purpose is to run the dams, and provide power for irrigation and some of the cities, but really for making sure that there’s water for irrigation and for navigable rivers. None of them specify in powering homes. So then they (SCIP) buy spot power from APS and SRP, wherever they can buy power from, and that’s what’s happening to you now, that’s that PCHR at the bottom of your bill. They’re blaming it on the high price of natural gas, I hate to tell you natural gas isn’t high right now. In my meeting with BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs), a week and a half ago that’s what they were telling me.”
Supervisor McClure went on to talk about the numerous years that the state government has spent trying to divest SCIP of power operations, and allow other power providers such as APS, or TRICO, to pick up the areas that would no longer be powered by SCIP. Meetings between Congress members, BIA and SCIP have been taking place more recently, and they have had more productive outcomes. They want to push a bill during the next session that will divest SCIP of power operations and allow new providers to come into their former areas. If this bill passes, a company like APS or TRICO will likely be the ones to take over power to Oracle and Mammoth. This process would take some time due to SCIP’s outdated equipment, such as lines and transformers, that would need to be updated to be most beneficial.
For now, the citizens are stuck playing the waiting game to see if any change will actually occur.
“That’s kind of where we are at the moment. The county can’t really do anything for you, but we’re working with the federal government to try to make it happen,” commented Supervisor McClure.
McClure went on to discuss current conversations with SCIP of trying to have them agree to setting up a structured payment program, and to not shut off people power when they can’t afford it.
The rest of the meeting was talk between citizens and Supervisor McClure on the possibilities of different power companies that would best fit the area, and also government programs that could help citizens that are struggling to make bill payments.