Groups Continue To Spar Over Pine Water

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With the evidentiary hearing on the Pine Water Company rate increase less than two weeks away, involved parties continue to jockey for position.

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., Wednesday, March 3, at the Arizona Corporation Commission. Public comment will be allowed at the beginning of the hearing.

"Pine Water has two witnesses, our staff has three, the (Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement) District has one, and Mr. (John) Breninger is going to be his own witness," ACC Public Information Officer Heather Murphy said. "Given that number of people, I'm guessing this is going to go three days."

Meanwhile, local Realtor Ray Pugel reports that residents are continuing to sign the petition authorizing the PSWID to purchase the Pine and Strawberry water companies and Project Magnolia, the 10,800-foot pipeline that connects the two systems. A mailing to property owners, including those who live in the Valley or elsewhere, is delivering results.

"We had signed letters back from the Valley two days after we mailed them, and I don't even know how that could happen," Pugel said.

The petition directs the PSWID to incur expenses not to exceed $12.1 million to purchase the two systems and the pipeline, to make appropriate capital improvements to the systems once acquired, and to develop new ground and surface water resources. The goal of the group circulating the petition is to demonstrate community support for the acquisition by securing the signatures of a majority of the property owners within the PSWID.

Robert Hardcastle, president of Brooke Utilities --he California-based parent company of the Pine and Strawberry water companies -- warns property owners to be careful what they sign.

"There are vested interests at work here -- real estate developers, real estate brokers, and government officials -- that want to increase property taxes for their own better interests," he said. "The people of Pine are being distracted by this special interest group's intent on being in the water business for personal reasons paid for on the backs of the community. We think the people of Pine aren't going to fall for such an obvious scheme by a few."

A group of Pine residents has banded together to oppose the petition and the actions of the PSWID. Citizens for an Adequate Water Supply (CAWS) also have done a mailing to Pine property owners.

Headlined "A Very Expensive Pig in a Poke," the piece questions where the remaining money will be spent after the Pine and Strawberry water companies have been purchased.

"An outside source estimates the value of these water facilities at approximately $4,000,000," it reads. "This leaves $8,120,000 for vaguely stated purposes."

Betty Kelly is a member of CAWS.

"We've been up here 24 years and Brooke Utilities is the first water company that's ever come in here and supplied us with water and fixed all the leaks and put some money into it," Kelly said. "The majority of us up here are very much for (Hardcastle), because he's the only one who has had the finances to keep it going good."

Kelly was also critical of the PSWID.

"We have not been able to get any information from the county as to when they're having meetings," she said. "We've had no open meetings. They have spent all this money we had to search for water on this dumb lawyer (John Gliege) who has been sanctioned to fight for all these developers down here."

Following the evidentiary hearing on the rate increase request, Judge Dwight Nodes will draft a recommendation to the commission and then they'll meet and make a decision.

"My best guess is mid-summer this would be decided and then the rates would kick in," Murphy said.

ACC offices are located at 1200 W. Washington in Phoenix.

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