The Arizona Corporation Commission directed Brooke Utilities to sit down with commission staff and interested parties to resolve the hookup moratorium issue for property owners who are "caught in the middle."
"We are talking specifically about property owners who are in the middle of a transaction, or who have just closed on a property under one assumption and are now learning something else," Heather Murphy, commission public information officer, said.
The controversy revolves around a moratorium on new water hookups originally imposed by the commission in 1989 on E and R Water Company. When California-based Brooke Utilities acquired E and R and two other Pine water companies from Williamson Waterworks in 1996, the three systems were isolated from one another.
In 1998, Brooke tied the three systems together (as the Pine Water Company), at which time, in the opinion of commission staff, the moratorium on new hookups should have applied to the entire system. Instead, Brooke has limited the moratorium to the E and R service area.
Of immediate issue are some six to eight customers who are in various stages of buying lots in Pine with the understanding that they would be hooked up to the system.
"What the commissioners did (Tuesday morning) after hearing from real estate agents, property owners and people who could potentially be caught in the middle here, is ask Brooke and the utilities division staff to meet with those interested parties and determine the best way to move forward under the current moratorium as it exists in particular in areas outside the E and R territory," said Murphy.
She also emphasized that the commission staff's interpretation of the moratorium area is not new, but may have been miscommunicated to Brooke at the time the various systems were joined.
"Commission staff always expected and anticipated that the moratorium applied to the whole community," Murphy said.
She said Brooke could continue with its own interpretation of the moratorium, but she didn't expect the company to do so.
"I believe they're not going to hook up anybody until they have demonstrated a period of stability in the system," Murphy said.
A spokesperson for Brooke said the water company will voluntarily refrain from hooking up any new customers for the time being.
Once the issue is resolved for the six to eight property owners caught in the middle, the commission will probably take a look at the larger moratorium issue.
While Brooke's service area has about 1,900 customers, some Pine residents are supplied by the Pine Water Users Association, a small water district which is not under the commission's jurisdiction. Three other small water districts service Portal IV, Solitude Trails and Strawberry Hollow, and some Pine residents are on private wells.