The residents of the Pine and Strawberry communities are trying to stop a deal between the water improvement district and Brooke Utilities to drill a well.
The Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District's board of directors entered into an agreement with the Pine Water Company, owned by Brooke Utilities, to drill a deep well in Strawberry. If the well is as successful as anticipated, the well will produce enough water to meet current and future demands of Pine.
Cindy Maack, owner of Ponderosa Market in Pine, is collecting signatures from residents who think it is wrong for the PSWID to spend $300,000 of their tax money to gamble on finding water in Strawberry to serve Pine. Their argument is based on the Arizona Constitution's Article 9; Section 10 makes the PSWID investment of $300,000 into the project illegal.
Article 9, Section 10 states, "No tax shall be laid or appropriation of public money made in aid of any church, or private or sectarian school, or any public service corporation."
Maack said the PSWID board ignored the recommendations made in its own Highland Water Study by Mike Ploughe. She said the Ploughe report states the proposed well site in Strawberry -- known as K2 -- is not the best place to drill.
"We're rolling the dice that this well won't hit water going into Fossil Creek," Maack said.
If there is an impact to Fossil Creek, the communities will have to deal with problems from Salt River Project and the Environmental Protection Agency, she said. "It doesn't make sense to drill 700 feet in Strawberry when access to the same water is closer to the surface in Pine."
Other problems with the K2 site, according to Maack, are its size of 80-by-100 feet, with a fair portion of it on a slope that will require excavation, plus a question of the ingress and egress to the site. She said the site needs a proper survey. It is located near a septic tank, she said.
"They did not do their due diligence," Maack said.
She is also concerned about giving Brooke Utilities $300,000 of taxpayers' money and if the project fails, having no requirement for the company to pay back the money and giving the company the taxpayer's money, then, if the project is a success, having the company getting more money from the taxpayers by raising rates to pay back the money.
"I think we have a water delivery problem, not a water source problem," Maack said.
She said her research shows that Brooke Utilities spent only $32,000 for repairs and maintenance for the Pine Water Company last year, and had $212,000 in profit.
"I don't want us to go into business with someone with that kind of history of mismanagement," Maack said.
The signatures will be submitted to the Arizona Corporation Commission, requesting the deal not be approved at an Aug. 6 public hearing.
According to PSWID Chairman Gary Sherlock, the only thing the commission needs to authorize in the agreement is Pine Water Company/Brooke Utilities having a lien placed on its well property in Strawberry.
Sherlock is working to draw support for the project from Strawberry residents. He said that currently almost 22 percent of Pine's water comes from Strawberry, totaling almost 40 percent of the amount used by the smaller community's residents and businesses.
Because Strawberry residents and businesses will not directly benefit from the new well, they would not share in the development costs, which are estimated to be in excess of $1 million.