One Recalled Pswid Board Member's View

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Editor:

My term was to end on December 31, 2008, but the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District (PSWID) recall election gave me my freedom this March. Rim Country Water (RCW) was in a hurry to get rid of four board members, and the special election they demanded cost the district taxpayers about $23,000.

I worked mainly on three projects over two years of donated time: #1) K2 Deep Well, #2) Pine Valley Geophysical Survey completed by Zonge Engineering and #3) Strawberry Borehole operation. Project #3 will soon be monitored by Arizona Department of Water Resources as part of their statewide satellite program, at no cost to local District taxpayers. Phase I of Project #2 was completed at a cost of just below $17,000 which provided a cross-section of both the deep and shallow aquifers under Pine Valley north of the two deep wells, Milk Ranch and Strawberry Hollow. Phase II of the survey was just beginning when stopped by the recall election. This would have given hydrogeologists a tool to target areas on private land having high potential for deep wells.

Most of my time was devoted to the early stages of Project #1, the K2 Deep Well, which was in the final stage of completion--Brooke Utilities, Inc. (BUI) cooperated with PSWID to complete a joint well development agreement (JWDA) for drilling 2 deep wells, both parties committed funding to begin the drilling operation, and the contract with the driller was ready for signing. PSWID was close to drilling a deep production well, at reasonable cost, within a short time-frame. Water was expected to be delivered this July, 2008. PSWID expended nearly $30,000 of consulting and legal fees to develop this project. BUI expended much more, over $100,000. These expenditures will be totally wasted if the new Board destroys the K2 Project. RCW plans to purchase the local water utilities of BUI and then manage/operate them. Taxpayers should ask the new Board, "What will this cost, and when will water be delivered?"

Taxpayers should understand that BUI purchased the former water utility in 1993, and most residents agree that water service and infrastructure have improved since then. In July 1996, the formation of PSWID was approved by the Gila County Board of Supervisors (GCBS) to represent the taxpayers of the District for the purpose of finding and developing reliable sources of water. Various published investigations and completion of the Strawberry Borehole project cost the District taxpayers nearly $300,000 from 1996 to 2004.

After several Board members resigned in 2003, GCBS took over and managed the District for one year (until the November 2004 elections seated a new Board). GCBS hired a private Consultant (Harry Jones of HDJ Management) to advise the District and that same Consultant continues to work for GCBS/Vice-Chair & District 1 Supervisor (Tommie Cline Martin). Over this period of time (to present), GCBS has paid the Consultant over $100,000 of County tax revenue to advance its objectives within the PSWID.

GCBS minutes show that Mr. Jones works on "water issues ... including PSWID ... on behalf of the County." Yet this Consultant never informed the Chairman, Gary Sherlock (now recalled), of GCBS objectives nor offered advice for making the K2 Deep Well Project a success, even when requested by Sherlock. What truly disturbs me is that back in July 2007, Sherlock sent a written request to GCBS Chairman and to our District 1 Supervisor to be placed on their regular meeting agenda to explain the position of PSWID (the K2 Deep Well Project) and to get their advice. GCBS first placed Sherlock on the agenda, and then called later to say he was taken off the agenda. There was no follow-up letter explaining the reason for cancellation. In similar fashion, Sherlock never received a response from our District 1 Supervisor.
Tax-wise, I am personally offended by this non-communicative skullduggery on the part of our local County government. Like all property owners in the District, I pay County property taxes, with one line-item being PSWID. All this goes to the taxing authority, GCBS which "... is responsible for the financing and administration of County government, has final approval over County department budgets, governs tax rates ... and also WORKS WITH other governmental bodies" (in this case, PSWID). Why has County government (GCBS, District 1) used District taxpayer revenue to interfere with, actually oppose, a private water utility and a local government entity working together to bring water to a thirsty community?

Mr. Jones has attended most of PSWID's meetings during my tenure, typically communicating with opponents of the Board's majority position, both before and after the meetings. At the recent Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) hearings, the Consultant worked with parties who protested against Pine Water Company and PSWID's majority position. This contradiction of local government objectives has been destructive to the progress of PSWID and wasteful of tax revenue. As long as a majority of the NEW Board opposes the ACC's regulated water utilities (Pine and Strawberry Water Companies), I expect it will have the support and cooperation of GCBS/District 1 and its Consultant.

I ‘m no longer on the Board, but will vote and persuade others to vote for the best solution to our water problems, most likely not the agenda of GCBS or the developers in our community, but what's best for the majority of water users. Without RCW's interference, the community would be congratulating the Board and PWCo this summer for delivering K2 Project water. It is no accident that the members who accomplished the most were recalled and replaced by people who support the RCW agenda. I hope the newly elected Board members will work as hard in the future as they have protested in the past.

Pro bono? No mas!

Wes Suhr, retired hydrologist, forester, and veteran of the Korean War and the K2 Project Conflict

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