Officials Hear From Pine Residents On Moratorium

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A moratorium on water hookups could deal a mortal blow to the livelihoods of Pine residents in the building industry.

"Building is not a bad thing," Sal Licavoli told representatives from the Arizona Corporation Commission who were in Pine for a hearing on the moratorium. "If it's stopped, it will cause a big impact on the economy and the lives of about a quarter of the people who live here."

Increasing the storage capacity of the Pine Water Company is among the options preferred to imposing a moratorium on hookups.

The suggestion was made by several Pine and Strawberry residents in a public hearing of the Arizona Corporation Commission Jan. 31.

Commissioner Kristin Mayes and ACC Administrative Law Judge Dwight Nodes were in Pine to listen to residents before the Feb. 14 evidentiary hearing on a hookup moratorium proposed by the agency's staff.

The ACC staff report, made in November, shows during peak usage, the water company has the capacity to serve only 555 connections. There were 1,752 accounts using water at the time of the test, plus an additional 240 accounts not using water.

"Do we really have a water problem?" asked Jim Richey, owner of the Pine Verde Mexican Restaurant. "There are three tanks near me that are only at 57-percent capacity. Refurbish the tanks and help meet the peak demand."

Richey said he has an engineering background and was with Motorola for 18 years.

"My conclusion is a moratorium is not needed," he said. "But there should be a technical study of the reserve issue."

Steve Scott, Jim Lewin and Licavoli agreed with the need to increase reserve capacity for water.

Both Lewin and Licavoli also opposed a moratorium. Scott said he felt one was needed, as long as it had the full support of Gila County, and included a moratorium on the formation of any new domestic water districts.

"A moratorium would have a drastic effect on many property owners," Lewin said.

Representatives for Brooke Utilities, Inc., which owns the Pine Water Company, were not allowed to testify at the Jan. 31 hearing, however the following responses were offered after the fact:

"BUI supports a reduced meter moratorium, but does not want to be the Lone Ranger," Robert Hardcastle, president of the Pine Water Company, said. "It is not fair to restrict BUI to further water customers while Gila County has the ability to create water districts, basically end running the moratorium. It is time for Gila County to provide political leadership on this issue and develop water restriction ordinances that mirror the effort BUI is trying to make."

Refurbishing the existing tanks, a BUI spokesperson said, would be a costly venture.

"Any solution to this problem will be costly and we have only 2,000 customers to spread the cost over," spokeswoman Myndi Brogdon said. "We have started conversations with the new Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District board and Gila County to find ways to work toward these goals and study these projects together."

There is already a moratorium of sorts on hookups. Action by the commission several years ago limited connections to the system to 25 per month. On average, there are only two or three hookups a month, according to Hardcastle, in a Sept. 14 interview.

Other suggestions made by residents at the hearing:

  • A grace period for people who already have their building plans with the Gila County community development office.
  • Hold off on a decision until there is time to investigate whether water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir could be brought to Pine.
  • Negotiate with Salt River Project for surface water.

Robert Nowak, who has owned property in the Pine-Strawberry area for 25 years, proposed the grace period.

Mayes agreed a grace period should be looked into.

Several residents spoke in favor of the proposed moratorium.

"A moratorium is needed," Marla Diepstraten said. "They're getting water from Strawberry already. Don't let them build (more) until the needs of the current residents are met."

The comments made by the residents at the Jan. 31 hearing were recorded and will be transcribed for the other commissioners and the Feb. 14 hearing.

At the next hearing, Hardcastle will get a chance to voice his opinion.

Nodes will review the hearing transcript and make a recommended order to the ACC. The members of the ACC can either accept the order or amend it, then vote on it.

The officials told the Pine-Strawberry residents a decision could be made within 60 days of the Feb. 14 hearing, then it would take another 60 days for the ACC to take action.

Mayes invited the residents to contact her for more information, call (602) 542-4143 or (800) 222-7000; fax (602) 542-0765; e-mail kmayes@cc.state.az.us.

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