Pine Strawberry Water Company Purchase Completed

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The Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District’s long and taxing quest to take control of Pine and Strawberry water companies from Brooke Utilities peaked Wednesday, Sept. 30, with the board paying the purchase price of $3.5 million.

Board President Bill Haney, who spearheaded the effort to assume control of the two water companies, signaled the sale was complete by e-mailing fellow board members, “at 11:40 (a.m.) this morning, the fat lady sang.”

Ironically, about the time the purchase deal was signed, water conservation in Pine went to Stage 3 — the most restrictive it has been this summer.

“Just another challenge,” Haney said.

After the deal was made public, a sign went up on the Bishop Realty marquee in Pine that read, “Bye, Bye Bobby,” apparently referring to Brooke Utilities President Bob Hardcastle, a man some water users and businessmen in the two mountain hamlets have had a long and contentious relationship with.

In fact, Hardcastle shouldered much of the blame for the two water companies’ woes, which included alleged poor customer service, infrastructure failures, water hauling charges during peak summer months and water outages.

Water users’ concerns with the way Hardcastle and Brooke Utilities were running the two systems led in March of 2008 to a successful recall election of the PSWID board. Ron Calderon, Richard Dickinson, Michael Greer and Terry Schleizer assumed seats on the board, along with remaining members Barbara Hall, Don Smith and Haney.

Hall later resigned in a tiff with fellow members, and was replaced by local businessman Tom Weeks.

Smith, a longtime Strawberry resident and local dentist, says the movement to take control of the water systems actually began about 15 years ago, “by some farsighted men in the Pine-Strawberry Improvement Association.”

From that original group, the PSWID was formed.

“Under the leadership of Bill Haney, (general manager) Harry Jones and (board attorney) John Gilege, the task was accomplished by perseverance and hard work,” Smith said.

He also called the long-awaited takeover “an accomplishment of the impossible dream.”

Schleizer cited Compass Bank for its role in the takeover — “Thank you for taking part in our community.”

The money to purchase the two companies came from a restructured Compass Bank loan at 20-year fixed and variable rates.

Schleizer also congratulated the residents of the improvement district, telling them, “You now control the destiny of your water systems.”

Although the district has assumed control of the water companies, Brooke has agreed to help with the transition of all operations for 15 days.

With the takeover, Shaffer Water Management will assume operations for the district. Steve Stevens and Pat Kolasinski will manage the water service office in Pine, and a contract has been issued to A Better Connection for emergency services and afterhours answering.

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