Pine-Strawberry Water Critic Wins Board Seat, Vows Teamwork

Sam Schwalm

Sam Schwalm Photo by Andy Towle. |

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The years-long war of words between Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District (PSWID) board chairman Gary Lovetro and Water for Pine Strawberry spokesman Sam Schwalm could be nearing an end.

At least that’s Lovetro’s view as he welcomed Schwalm as the newest member of the board, vowing to treat the longtime board critic “with respect.”

Schwalm will become a board member in January. He filed for an open seat in this election and no one filed to run against him. Only four candidates filed paperwork for four vacant seats on the board.

The foursome includes incumbents Lovetro, Richard Dickinson and Tom Weeks, plus Schwalm.

They will join incumbents Ron Calderon, Mike Greer and Mike Claxton on the board.

Don Smith, a member since 2004, did not run for re-election.

Despite Schwalm’s criticism of the district, Lovetro expressed confidence “Sam will make a contribution to the board and he is prepared to work as hard as the rest of us.”

Schwalm contends teamwork among seven board members is the key to success. “I think by working together for the common interest of the community, we can provide a safe, reliable and cost-effective water system.”

He does, however, realize as spokesperson for the watchdog group Water for Pine Strawberry, he’s had conflicts with board members, especially Lovetro.

“In the past, I have publicly criticized some of the board members for taking actions that are not in the community’s best interests and in turn they have criticized me for speaking up.”

Schwalm also says he looks forward to working with fellow board members, “to achieve goals and provide a reliable water system to the people of Pine and Strawberry.”

While the relationship between Schwalm and some of the board members now seems cordial, that wasn’t always the case.

The tension peaked at a stormy Jan. 19 board meeting during which Lovetro scolded Schwalm and fellow Water for Pine Strawberry member Pam Mason. At that time, he said, “I’m sick and tired of the criticism of your watchdog group... I’m fed up ... it’s going to cost you very much personally to defend your actions,” Lovetro said.

Schwalm later said he took Lovetro’s comments as an obvious “threat of financial ruin.”

Also at the meeting, Calderon threatened Schwalm, “I’m going to put my foot in your mouth.”

Schwalm quickly replied, “No” to which Calderon shouted back, “Don’t tell me ‘No.’”

At the board’s next meeting, Feb. 23, Calderon apologized publicly for his outburst.

Later, Mason defended her group’s persistent challenge to board actions.

“We (Water for Pine Strawberry) behave well, we don’t rant and rave.”

Although the board has been embroiled in controversy since a May 2010 board meeting at which Greer asked fellow members to terminate the contracts of then-general manager Harry Jones, hydrologist Mike Ploughe, Tetra Tech engineering as well as demanding the resignation of board president Bill Haney, Lovetro contends the board has upheld its responsibilities well.

“As a board, we have made tremendous progress providing unrestricted water. The board has hired the most professional company in the world (CH2MHill) to manage the district,” he said. “We have lifted the meter moratorium, we have purchased two deep wells, we have drilled a third deep well and are in the process of drilling a fourth.”

Also, he touted, “We refinanced the district’s original purchase loan at a cost of only $70,000, saving several hundred thousands of dollars.”

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