Water Board Meeting

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The Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District board voted unanimously at a hastily called July 3 special meeting to offer to purchase the two town's private water systems, now owned Brooke Utilities, for $2.17 million.

The amount was a recommendation from the valley firm of Coo and Van Loo who recently appraised Brooke Utilities assets in both the Pine and Strawberry water systems.

The successful vote marks the culmination of a years-long process to turn the often ineffective private water systems into public ones.

Also, the debate over the Brooke-owned vs. public water systems has divided the normally tight knit towns causing a successful PSWID board recall election last spring.

Following the vote by the board, local realtor Ray Pugel -- who has long been critical of Brooke Utilities and its president Robert Hardcastle - took the microphone to tell the audience, "I declare July 3 Water Independence Day in Pine and Strawberry."

He then spewed advice to Hardcastle saying nothing would be gained during an adversarial relationship over the purchase price of the water companies.

Hardcastle has the option of turning down the offer which could prompt the PSWID to try and gain ownership via the judicial condemnation process.

Pugel then told Hardcastle, who was not present, "Take the money and go back to California and leave Pine and Strawberry to solve our water problems."

His comments were met with cheers and laughter from most of the about 40 persons in the audience.

Brooke Utilities spokesperson Myndi Brogdon said the two water companies are not for sale but it is a business and if the right offer was made, the sale was a possibility.

She would not say what a "right offer" would be.

Ironically, during the meeting to solve water shortage problems, a torrential downpour- which included quarter-sized hail - drenched the two mountain hamlets causing creeks to overflow, roads to wash away and ponds to swell in most every crevice below the Mogollon Rim.

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