For years, Brooke Utilities has apparently gotten the bulk of the water it has been selling to residents of Mesa del Caballo from an undocumented, unregulated well, according to documents obtained by the Roundup.
The murky sequence of events came to light after the well blew up because of a closed pressure release valve, revealing the still confusing history of a well that has not undergone state-required inspections for an unknown period, although it has provided Brooke Utilities with roughly 500,000 gallons of water monthly, according to documents obtained by the Roundup.
The new well owner, Mary Hansen, has disconnected the well from the community’s water system, resulting in a sharp increase in bills as a result of increased water hauling.
Brooke Utilities did not return calls seeking comment.
However, the man who recently bought the Payson Water Company from Brooke said he hopes to settle the problem soon.
Jason Williamson, owner of JW Holdings/Pivotal Companies, wrote in an e-mail, “I do believe we have resolved the dispute and that the well will be back in service soon.”
The documents provided by Hansen and records from the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the Arizona Corporation Commission and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) seem to suggest that Brooke Utilities provided half the water it sold Mesa del Caballo residents from an undocumented, unregulated well, perhaps without paying for the water for an extended period. The well number listed required reports to the ADEQ correspond to a capped, inactive well several blocks away.
Reportedly the company that owned Payson Water Company before Brooke bought it had paid an elderly couple who owned the home for the water. Apparently, Brooke stopped paying for the water after it bought out the previous water company operator. Sometime after that, the elderly couple went into bankruptcy and lost the house in foreclosure.
The new owner didn’t register as owner of the well with the state. Hansen says Brooke did not pay that owner for the water, either.
As a result of the gap in the records, it’s unclear whether the well underwent required tests for contamination and heavy metals during that period.
The interim owner of the property also lost it in foreclosure and Hansen bought the home at an auction, without realizing the well constituted a crucial part of the water system for the whole community. She only discovered the well’s intricate history after a pump blew out the side of the garage.
Hansen provided documents suggesting Brooke had mislabeled the well in documents submitted to regulators and used it without paying the previous homeowners for the water or performing required tests.
After repairing the well, she disconnected it from Brooke’s system, which effectively forced the private water company to increase the amount of water it bought from Payson and hauled to Mesa del’s water storage tanks.
The Arizona Corporation Commission allows Brooke to charge Mesa del residents extra for water it hauls in, which has driven some homeowners’ monthly water bills over $500.
Some residents are now accusing Hansen of forcing them to pay exorbitant water bills.
However, Hansen said she only shut off the well after a pressure tank and an electrical panel blew up on her property. She said Brooke Utilities refused to pay for the damages, so Hansen and her partner rebuilt the tank and electrical panel. Then Brooke hooked up the well again and started pumping water. Brooke made several payments for the water and then stopped, Hansen claimed.
E-mails provided by Hansen detail year-long communications between Hansen and Brooke Utilities owner Robert Hardcastle. The e-mails show that when Hansen tried to get Brooke to pay for the water it had used and enter into a water sharing agreement, Brooke owner Hardcastle refused.
Hansen said when she called the ADEQ, it could not find any evidence of her well in its records — and therefore no record of any required water quality testing.
Adding insult to injury, Brooke Utilities not only stopped paying Hansen for the water it used from her well, but also charged her almost $700 for the water she used from her own well.
So she pulled the plug.
“It has now been a year and still no agreement, no inducement, no reimbursement, and Brooke has gained $687 in revenue by the residency being billed,” wrote Hansen in an e-mail to Hardcastle in March, “If all terms and conditions are not met, the home will hook back up to the well directly and Brooke will be disconnected as we will not pay any more hauling fees.”
In the process of untangling the mess, Hansen discovered what she termed a cover up by Hardcastle. He took full advantage of a mislabeled well to hide his responsibility to test the water for toxins, said Hansen.
When Hansen took her well off-line, Brooke Utilities claimed her well produced more than 13,000 gallons per day. The company listed the well as an asset on reports to the Arizona Corporation Commission, which bases the rates it allows a company to charge on its assets and investments. On the Corporation Commission report, Brooke reported the well produced 6 to 7 gallons a minute.
Yet, when Hansen went to figure out how to make Brooke responsible for the damages and insurance, she had to pay for a year, none of the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) production reports listed her well.
“When I went to ADEQ, (Arizona Department of Environmental Quality) they said they did not see my well,” said Hansen.
A quick search on the Arizona Department of Water Resources well registry site for the well number listed on Brooke’s Arizona Corporation Commission production report, lists the well as being owned by William Huddleston from Mesa.
The paperwork with the well claims its physical location is on Lot number 26 off of Vista del Norte Street in Mesa del.
Hansen’s well, however, is on Lot 164 on Gunsight Ridge.
On the ACC production report, while the well registry number is listed erroneously, the lot number is listed correctly.
As a result, when Hansen went to report the damage on her property, the ADEQ said it had no record of the well.
“If you put the well number into the Arizona well registry, it brings up the information on Huddleston,” said Hansen. “If you read it carefully, that well is not in use, it’s a capped well. Hardcastle had to find a well not in use and put in fake numbers ... (and so) ADEQ was led to del Norte.”
Hansen said when ADEQ arrived at the del Norte address, inspectors would see the capped well and therefore not require testing for arsenic or bacteria.
Yet, Hansen said Hardcastle could then report the water the well produced on the Arizona Corporation Commission well production report.
It was a classic case of the right hand not understanding what the left hand was doing.
Hansen said it was very difficult for ADEQ to admit water from her untested, undocumented well was going into a public system. She said she had to resort to calling the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to get the federal regulators to pressure ADEQ to go to her property and verify the well.
“I said, why would I lie to you for a year? Yes, I know what’s on paper, but it’s wrong,” she said of her conversation with the public safety organization.
When the ADEQ finally arrived on her property, she said representatives from Brooke Utilities were in tow.
“When I asked why the Brooke guys were there, they yelled, ‘None of your f*king business,’” said Hansen. “I got on the phone with the EPA Region 9 representative and he said, ‘Is that Brooke screaming at you?’”
The story of how the well fell off the official reports goes back for more than a decade.
Mesa del resident, and owner of the local store Steve Gehring said the story started in 1996 when Benny and Lisa Harmon drilled the well as an investment. Records from the Gila County Recorder’s Office confirm that fact.
Gehring, along with other residents, have started a case against Brooke Utilities and Hardcastle with the ACC.
Gehring said the Harmons then entered into an agreement with United Utilities owned by Rich Williamson.
As Gehring understands the local lore, the Harmons enjoyed a fair relationship with United Utilities, until Hardcastle bought the water company.
Soon Brooke stopped paying, said Gehring.
The Harmons fell on tough times and lost the house to foreclosure. A man named John Olson bought the property. He never registered the well in his name.
Then Olson lost the property to foreclosure, said Gehring.
Hansen and her partner Svanhilbur Jafetsdotti bought the house from Olson.
Three days before they closed on the property — the tank blew up — exposing the whole mess.
The new owner of the water company hopes to straighten out the problem going forward. He responded readily to requests for information from the Roundup.
Hansen confirmed that she has a pending agreement with Williamson. She said he has also sent her a check for her physical damages and has started paying for insurance on the well.
“Jason and I — I think — have an agreement that instead of taking an inducement fee, in lieu the fire department will get access to water,” said Hansen. “I have given them permission to go back on line.”
However, Williamson did say in his e-mail, “Unfortunately, while reinstating this source will help, it will not alleviate the need for hauling.”