The Town of Marana has a new ally in the fight with Pima County over wastewater rights.
The Arizona Attorney General’s Office has announced it will be involved in ongoing litigation.
On Oct. 11, Assistant Attorney General James Barton II filed a notice of appearance with the Arizona Superior Court.
The court document states the Attorney General’s Office “intends to intervene as a party in this matter pursuant to Arizona Revised Statutes 12-1842.”
The state’s legal authority filed the motion to weigh in on a recent motion filed by the Town of Marana for a change of venue to have litigation removed from Pima County courts, and transferred to Maricopa County.
In the state’s motion, Barton called Maricopa County a “more convenient” location.
A judge has not yet ruled on the change of venue motion.
Barton said the Attorney General’s office is now obligated to get involved because Pima County has challenged the constitutionality of Senate Bill 1171.
Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1171 into law last April. The law, which went into effect in July, allows Marana to own the wastewater plant and all sewer collection infrastructures within its town limits.
Pima County filed a motion calling the law unconstitutional, and stated it violates its right to contract.
“Because they are challenging a state law, the Attorney General’s office is obligated to serve as a party in the case,” Barton said. “We will participate just as the defendant (Marana) would.”
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said he is not surprised the state is stepping in, noting he expected it to get involved a lot sooner.
“That is fine with us. We will move forward,” he said.
Huckelberry still feels the county has a good case for challenging the law.
“The law has due process issues,” he said. “It allows (Marana) to take property without just compensation. It allows this wastewater plant to be taken without them paying the full value of what it’s worth.”
Marana Town Manager Gilbert Davidson said having the Attorney General’s office serve as a fellow defendant helps the town’s case.
“The state sees this as a valid issue and is willing to help a local jurisdiction to get the rights to manage its own wastewater system,” said Davidson.
Barton stressed that while the state office will intervene to defend SB 1171, they will not get involved in other aspects of the court battle between Marana and Pima County.
The battle over wastewater began in 2008. That is when the Town of Marana wanted to take over management of its own wastewater system, which is currently maintained and controlled by Pima County.
Settlement talks have been going on for three years. Currently, Davidson said the ball is in the county’s court regarding a recent settlement offered by the Town of Marana.
While details to the offer were not provided, Huckelberry said the county has reviewed it, and will likely submit a counter offer in the near future.
Davidson said the town would settle only if “(the counter offer) meets our criteria.”
When it comes to the town’s intentions, Huckelberry said he still doesn’t understand why Marana wants wastewater rights.
“We can’t figure out what the problem is,” he said. “We’ve always given them the effluent.”
The county contends that managing wastewater services on a regional level is more economical.