KINGMAN - Mohave County Supervisors are determined to have a voice in the Bill Williams River settlement to transfer water rights to Freeport Minerals' mine in Yavapai County.
The board unanimously approved a motion by Supervisor Hildy Angius on Jan. 4 to sign a non-disclosure agreement for the county to participate in the second phase of water rights negotiations with the Hualapai Tribe.
Supervisors Angius and Steve Moss, County Administrator Mike Hendrix and attorney Carlos Ronstadt will attend a confidential preliminary status meeting and report back to the board.
The date and time for the meeting has not been set.
Angius and Moss met with the Arizona Department of Water Resources and Gov. Doug Ducey's staff in December, which resulted in a letter from ADWR inviting county officials to participate in the water settlement discussions.
"Mohave County looks forward to working with the parties in this matter," County Administrator Hendrix said.
The board spent more than $70,000 in legal fees to "have a seat at the table" in these negotiations, and believes that it would not have been invited if it had not challenged the county's exclusion from earlier discussions that led to the passage of the Bill Williams River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2014.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, directs the Secretary of the Interior to enter into an agreement to lease land within Planet Ranch and to settle water rights claims in the Bill Williams River watershed.
Mohave County argued that Freeport does not have legal rights to transfer up to 40,000 acre-feet of water out of the area to support its mine in Yavapai County.
A Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Mohave County in June. However, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld Freeport's water rights in a November ruling.
"If the nondisclosure is signed by the (board) chairman, it will resolve the litigation," Moss said via email. "But we won't have given up the fight as the nondisclosure gives us what we wanted to begin with - involvement in Phase 2."
The board approved additional funds to wind down the litigation, including engineer and attorney fees associated with Phase 2, but those fees will be for experts to deal with negotiations, not litigation, Moss added. They should be much less than litigation fees.
Phase 2 discussions are meant to address the remaining water rights claims of the Hualapai Tribe. Included in the discussions are the Tribe, U.S. Department of Interior, Salt River Project, Freeport Minerals Corp., Central Arizona Project, Arizona State Land Department, ADWR and Mohave County.
The agreement will insure that information disclosed in the discussions will remain confidential.