End to water war unlikely - The Explorer: Marana

End to water war unlikely

Marana officials uninterested in latest county offer

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Posted: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 6:00 am

Pima County officials have written a proposal designed to end the stalemate with Marana over wastewater treatment.

In a letter to Marana Town Manager Gilbert Davidson, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said the county would continue to provide all existing wastewater services in addition to allowing Marana access to the effluent produced at treatment facilities.

Marana officials rebuffed the offer, saying it doesn’t do enough to satisfy the town’s interests.

“He (Huckelberry) really hasn’t offered anything of substance,” Davidson said, adding that the proposal looks the same as an offer the town previously rejected. “They put in more verbiage, but it’s the same exact offer made five years ago.”

Huckelberry disputes the characterization.

“It’s completely different,” he said.

In particular, he said the current offer allows Marana to access all the effluent attributed to the town’s water utility without reductions for Southern Arizona Water Settlement Act or other obligations that water providers have to meet.

The prior agreement included such reductions in effluent totals the town could access, Huckelberry said.

The proposal comes in response to a bill moving through the Arizona State Legislature that Marana lobbied for.

The bill would allow municipalities to take over a county-owned wastewater treatment plant if the facility stands within the town borders or at least 75 percent of the waste stream emanates from the town. Marana officials have not yet responded to the county with a list of terms that it would agree to. Gilbertson told The Explorer, however, that the proposed legislation effectively outlines what the town would agree to.

“Our terms are the legislation,” Davidson said. “The legislation makes us whole.”

Marana officials want a treatment facility to gain access to effluent, which the town needs to ensure future growth. State laws require communities to ensure long-term water supplies and mandate gallon-for-gallon recharge for groundwater use.

“Certainly the reason we want to operate our own wastewater system is water,” Davidson said.

County officials oppose the legislation, saying it would defeat the goals of regionalism and ultimately forfeit to Marana assets that sewer ratepayers throughout the county paid for.

“That’s completely unacceptable to us,” Huckelberry said.

Marana and Pima have been at odds over a small wastewater treatment facility the county owns in the north end of Marana. The town attempted to annex the property and takeover the facility in 2007. A lawsuit ensued that remains pending.

Huckelberry said Marana’s efforts for a legislative fix to the ongoing dispute don’t address the potential costs to town residents. He said sewer rates are currently equalized throughout the county’s service area but would increase substantially for Marana customers if the town acquired the disputed treatment facility.

“Obviously, in the Senate we lost the political fight, but it’s one that’s been waged with incomplete information,” Huckelberry said.

Davidson has said that the county has used its control over wastewater hookups to stifle growth in Marana. In particular, Davidson charges that the county delayed and eventually derailed a proposed hospital in the town.

“Our response from the county was that they were not going to put in the capacity (for the hospital),” Davidson said.

Huckelberry also wrote a lengthy rebuttal to the claim, which Gilbertson made again on Feb. 2 before the Arizona Senate’s Water, Land Use and Rural Development Committee.

“The county was willing to serve the facilities and enter into a legal agreement to do so; however, the developer failed to perform its obligations under the agreement,” Huckelberry wrote in a Feb. 10 memo to the board of supervisors.

The county administrator said developers of the proposed hospital allowed its construction authorization to lapse, which derailed the project, not county actions.

Davidson also said that the county and Huckelberry have been duplicitous when dealing with other issues important to Marana’s future.

He points to the county’s seeming about-face on the Tangerine Road Landfill.

Going back to 2008, and possibly earlier, Huckelberry and other county officials have said they intend to close the Tangerine Landfill because the site had reached its capacity. By summer 2010, however, the county decided the landfill would remain open and operate as a waste transfer station.

The change occurred at a time when the town and county were at odds over another issue — a proposed privately run landfill in an area Marana had recently annexed.

Huckelberry and the board of supervisors opposed the Marana landfill proposal.

“I don’t know what’s true or not with him,” Davidson said.

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