The Arizona Corporation Commission has scheduled a public hearing at 10 a.m. Friday on Pine Water Company's request for an interim-rate increase to cover the additional cost of hauling water during the summer and other times of shortage.
The hearing will be held at 10 a.m. at the ACC's office, 1200 West Washington Street in Phoenix.
Pine Water Company wants to charge its 1,900 customers an extra 95 cents per 1,000 gallons, probably beginning in June. The interim rate increase would be in force until the company can apply for and is granted a permanent rate increase.
In filing the request and a revised curtailment tariff, Pine Water Company President Robert Hardcastle said the amount of the increase will be adjusted periodically to reflect the actual cost of supplementing the groundwater supply with outside sources.
No decision will be made at the hearing, but attendees will probably be allowed to speak, according to Heather Murphy, ACC public information officer.
"All of our hearings are presided over by an administrative law judge, as opposed to an open meeting that's presided over by the commissioners where they make a decision," Murphy said. "This is a hearing in front of the administrative law judge, and it is normal practice that the judge will allow for public comment."
Murphy said the hearing judge, Dwight Nodes, will either order all parties to file post-hearing briefs to summarize their positions, or he will take the matter immediately under advisement and make a recommendation to the commissioners at a later date.
Then an open meeting, at which public comment also will be allowed, will be scheduled for the commissioners to decide the issue.
John Breninger, a Pine resident and a member of the board of the Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District, has filed the only intervention in the case, which allows him to present sworn evidence and cross-examine other witnesses at the hearing.
Breninger said he will address the interim rate increase, focusing on two key points;
- I want to refute a standing ACC position that Pine-Strawberry has no water," Breninger said. "It's premature, but I'm going to put forward the work our district is having done for us on this study of a deep well."
- To be an effective regulator, the ACC has to keep the rates that consumers pay free of sudden and disastrous jumps," Breninger said. "What they're doing in this temporary rate hearing process is looking for ways to pay for trucking at $40 per 1,000 gallons, when there are other solutions available for a lot less money if you start getting the right capitalization for these things."
In requesting the interim increase, Hardcastle blamed the water shortage on "Gila County's obsession with increased levels of residential and commercial development in the area" and on the geology of the area.
"There is no aquifer below Pine," he said. "Rather, ... water travels ... in the Mogollon Rim through fractured rock. These fractures create fissures in which small and limited amounts of water can collect. If a well is drilled in a fissure it is likely to be a limited production well."
Breninger disputes this contention.
"We have a regional aquifer that everybody has been denying," he said. "The future is in the deep water, but it costs more to drill it and it costs more to pump it."
The curtailment tariff which Pine Water Company filed concurrently with the rate-increase request is simply a plan for dealing with water outages and shortages of varying degrees of seriousness.
The new tariff imposes stronger restrictions and penalties on Pine Water Company customers in order "to ensure the equitable distribution of water in times of water shortages."
Water supply status would still be divided into five categories, but mandatory conservation measures would begin at Stage 3 instead of Stage 4.
Stiffer reconnection fees are also proposed beginning at Stage 3 for those customers whose failure to adhere to mandatory curtailment measures results in disconnection from the system. Reconnection fees would be $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense and $750 for the third offense.
Pine Water Company was ordered last year by the ACC to review its existing curtailment tariff and come back with appropriate modifications.
Breninger expressed surprise that he was the only citizen to file an intervention.
"There's a couple people here who ought to be interveners considering the intensity with which they've expressed themselves on the issue," he said.
Murphy said Pine Water Company customers can also comment through the ACC'S website or by regular mail. Go to www.cc.state.a.us, then click on Divisions, Utilities. Go to a section called "Can we help you?" and you will be walked through the public comment process.
Mail comments should be sent to: Arizona Corporation Commission, 1200 West Washington Street, Phoenix, AZ 85007. Refer to docket number 104 to comment on the curtailment tariff and docket number 106 to comment on the interim rate increase.