Bill's progress a good sign for Leavitt project

Nathan Oster

Optimism is growing among supporters of the proposed expansion of the Leavitt Reservoir near Shell.

The long-discussed project has languished for more than a year due to a significant gap between what the Shell Valley Watershed Improvement District (SVWID) expected it to cost (approximately $46 million) and the only bid it received, which came in well north of that (approximately $78 million).

The angst over that is dissipating, however, with every hurdle cleared by House Bill 93.  Slugged the Omnibus water bill-construction, it includes an earmark for the full $78 million for the Leavitt Reservoir project. 

Of that total, 97.8% ($76.248 million) would come from the state in the form of a grant; the SVWID would be on the hook for the remaining 2.2% ($1.716 million), which would need to be repaid over a 50-year period at 4% interest.

Wyoming Select Water Committee recommended the additional $32 million for the project last fall and the momentum has carried over the current legislative session.  On Jan. 25, HB 93 passed on third reading in the House by a convincing margin of 56-5-1.  

It's met no opposition in the Senate, either.  

The bill was approved on third reading Tuesday; the vote was 31-0.

Sen Dan Laursen said an amendment to address concerns about cloud seeding was added, which resulted in it being sent back to the House for concurrence. "The Leavitt project isn't part of that, though," said Laursen, expressing confidence that the Leavitt funding is there to stay.  

"People in that area have been working on it for a long time," he said. "And that dam's been breached for two years now -- we need to get it back."

Kent Johnson, the vice president of the SVWID, struck a similar tone at Monday night's annual meeting of the Shell Canal Company

"We're extremely excited and optimistic about this funding," he told the gathering of approximately 50 people.

Johnson said SVWID did everything it could to trim the cost without affecting the overall function of the reservoir. "We don't have a luxurious rest station (anymore), we've narrowed the boat ramp ... but there wasn't a whole lot we could cut," he said. "And we worked with landowners and got compromises on turnouts." 

Johnson said state will end up kicking in a higher percentage of the total funding package for the Leavitt Reservoir than it did for Upper and Lower Sunshine and, more recently, Roach Gulch.  For them, the split was typically closer to the 75/25 or 70/30 range.

If the bill is signed into law in its current form, Johnson said construction could begin as early as this fall.  The plan this time is to pursue four different contracts, rather than the single bid for all the work, which was the case last time.  

The project is expected to require two to three years to complete, he said.