During a contentious, three-hour meeting Wednesday, the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District was turned upside down as some board members accused staff of conspiracy and demanded the resignations of the board’s president and general manager.
In the end, the district lost its hydrologist, engineer and customer service supervisor.
The resignations strike a blow to the struggling water district, which is battling contending views on how to provide water to residents and move forward with improvements.
In October, the PSWID acquired the Pine-Strawberry water companies from Brooke Utilities after a lengthy battle with President Bob Hardcastle. Earlier this month, the PSWID board struck a deal to buy the Milk Ranch Well from owners Ray Pugel and Robert Randall for $400,000. The well is one of only two deep wells in the P-S area, and tests show it can produce 100 to 120 gallons per minute, a good supplement to the demands of summer. However, critics worry about the amount of sand in the well water.
In prepared statements read at the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting, Highland Water Resources Consulting (HWRC) and Tetra Tech terminated their contracts with the district. In addition, Customer Service Supervisor Steve Stevens resigned after board Treasurer Michael Greer questioned Stevens’ competence in a letter Greer read at Wednesday’s meeting.
Greer also called for resignations from PSWID Chair William Haney and General Manager Harry Jones.
Neither Jones nor Haney resigned.
“I am elected by the people and I am not going to be intimidated to do so (resign),” Haney said. If I resign, “I will do it at my timing.”
Haney said there was a fair amount of dissent at the meeting, with some board members questioning the purchase of Milk Ranch Well and the work of Tetra Tech and HWRC.
In a letter to the board, Tetra Tech said it was terminating its contract because several board members accused the firm of participating in a conspiracy with professional consultants to hamper the progress of the PSWID, create a hostile environment and perform unnecessary work to generate revenue.
“Tetra Tech considers these accusations unfounded and against our core beliefs as registered professional consulting engineers,” Tetra Tech said.
Tetra Tech follows the American Society of Civil Engineers code of ethics and would never generate unnecessary revenue to keep its jobs, the firm said.
“We have never performed any work that was not specifically requested by the PSWID Board or the PSWID District Manager.”
Additionally, Tetra Tech said it has donated “significant time” to the PSWID, “so the accusation of generating unnecessary revenue is unfounded.”
Addressing claims of a conspiracy, Tetra Tech said, “the services and products created by Tetra Tech were based on sound, justifiable engineering principles and did not consider political or special interest group influences.
“If that is considered partaking in conspiracy, then we cannot continue to perform duties instructed by PSWID.”
Tetra Tech Engineering Director Garrett Goldman said Tetra Tech did not attend Wednesday’s meeting because it did not want to become a target to attack.
“It was getting very turbulent and it didn’t really matter what we would say, it would have fallen on deaf ears at this point.”
Michael Ploughe, with HWRC, said it was no longer possible for him to provide services with the majority of the board and the operations manager unwilling to accept his recommendations. Ploughe is also the Town of Payson’s hydrologist.
“The recent positions taken by the apparent board majority and operations manager are based on half truths,” Ploughe said in a letter.
“Highland’s (HWRC) attempts to clarify issues with the operations manager have been met with resistance.”
Ploughe said he was disappointed to end his relationship with the district.
“Were it not for Highland’s countless (often donated) hours helping local “risk takers” in the community, the myth that “there is no water in Pine” would still be a curse on the community,” Ploughe said.
Losing both firms is unfortunate, Haney said.
“I think it was a very bad thing, we lost some of the best talent up here,” Haney said.
Goldman said the board is headed in a direction Tetra Tech did not agree with.
“It is an interesting situation up there,” Goldman said.
Stevens said when Greer accused him of professional misconduct, “it was clear to me they no longer needed my services.”
Although the majority of the board asked Stevens to stay, he said the relationship was broken.
“They (several board members Stevens refused to identify) accused us of conspiracy against the board,” Stevens said. “That is the furthest thing from the truth. They have developed some paranoia.”
The district is now without an engineer, hydrologist and supervisor, Haney said, but the board will eventually hire new people. However, the district wants to find a permanent manager first. Currently, Jones is the interim manager while the board finds a permanent recruit. The board hopes to find a new manager within the next few months, Haney said.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the board selected Pine resident David Davis as its new attorney, replacing John Gliege, who passed away in February.