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Capital for the dam

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By Optic Editorial Board

Two things stand out from Gov. Susana Martinez’s visit to Las Vegas last week. One is that she got an up-close look at one of our potential disasters, Peterson Dam, and came away convinced that it needs to be a priority expense. The other is that, when it comes to her estranged relationship with the state Legislature, she’s maintaining an offensive stance.

Peterson Dam is badly in need of repairs. Built a century ago, it’s leaking water to the tune of about 60 million gallons a year, according to the city, and it’s at risk of failing. Currently it holds up to 211 acre feet water — not much in the grand scheme of things for Las Vegas — but if it were raised, it could add 1,200 acre feet of water to the reservoir, a huge difference for the city’s storage capacity.

But of course, that will cost money — an estimated $20 million, as a matter of fact. And while the governor expressed support for fixing the dam, she pulled up quite short of that kind of price tag.

Instead, she talked in percentages, and turned the tables on lawmakers who prefer to dole out capital funds in bits and pieces instead of allocating enough funds to actually get larger jobs done.

In one sense, the governor is exactly right; in another, she comes up short.

This is where Gov. Martinez went on the offensive: At just about every stop in town — on the radio, at this newspaper and at a luncheon organized by Mayor Alfonso Ortiz — she criticized the legislature in the way it handled capital outlays in the last session. She said lawmakers spread out funding in “itty-bitty” increments instead of giving enough money to get the larger projects, such as the Peterson Dam repairs, started. In that regard, we agree wholeheartedly. Capital outlays are where the pork and politics meet; nickel-and-dime funding is just a way to let lawmakers bring home just enough bacon to ensure their re-elections.

Where the governor came up short is in the percentages. She said that she proposed in the last legislative session $2 million in capital outlay for Peterson Dam, and $16 million total for all dams statewide, but lawmakers allocated only $200,000 statewide. She’s right to say that’s not enough, but even her proposal comes up short of the $20 million needed to do the Peterson Dam job right. Her math didn’t go far enough either.

Still, we commend the governor for her interest in Las Vegas’ water needs.

In an area that goes so heavily Democratic, it’s impressive to see a Republican governor take an entire day out of her schedule to visit our town, view our dilapidated dam up close, have lunch with our city and county leaders, visit our media outlets and celebrate our soon to be opened meat processing plant. It shows that she’s not just catering to her base, she’s reaching out to others as well, and we appreciate that approach to governance.

Mayor Ortiz, who escorted the governor from venue to venue, was smart to bring her to town. Clearly he hopes for her support in the upcoming legislative session, when Las Vegas goes after funds for water system improvements. We suspect that, after a good day here, she’ll do what she can to advance the cause on our behalf.