Marana, Pima County await judge's wastewater decision - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

Marana, Pima County await judge's wastewater decision

Arguments hinge on interpretation of wording

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Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2008 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:04 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Marana and Pima County should know by Aug. 4 a judge’s decision on the ownership of a contested wastewater system and treatment plant.

Maricopa Superior Court Judge Kristin Hoffman has 60 days to reach a decision on whether the county or Marana owns the 181.66 miles worth of sewer pipes and the Marana Wastewater Treatment Facility.

On June 5, attorneys from both sides presented opening arguments on who owns the facilities.

Ownership of the entire sewer system is important to Marana because the processed effluent can be used to water golf courses and parks, or recharged as groundwater for future use.

The treatment facility services the town’s northern area, or “Old Marana,” and the Gladden Farms North development. Most of the town uses the wastewater treatment plant on Ina Road.

Marana had originally sued the county in October, claiming the dissolution of an intergovernmental agreement meant the wastewater treatment facility would fall into the town’s hands.

In December, the county filed suit against the town, arguing that the recent Marana annexation of the treatment plant and the area around it was unlawful because the county designated the area as a park, and county permission would be required before the annexation can go through.

The two cases were eventually combined and moved to Maricopa County to avoid any conflicts of interest.

The 1979 intergovernmental agreement says Pima County will provide sewer service for Marana, but does not specifically mention the Marana Wastewater Treatment Facility.

“On termination, the remainder of the sewer system within the corporate limits of the Town that is not a flow-through system shall become the property of the Town,” according to the agreement.

This doesn’t mean the town would get all sewer pipes, just the ones that service Marana. The pipes that are “just passing through” would remain in the county’s control.

It is the wording of “sewer system” that Marana is hoping includes both the pipes and the treatment plant.

“(We’re) optimistic that the conveyance system will come to Marana,” said Marana Town Attorney Frank Cassidy.

Pima County attorneys maintained that Marana could take over the sewer pipes, but said it didn’t make much sense because the town would also need a treatment plant and a sewer utility to run it.

“What do you do with a conveyance system without a treatment plant?” said Richard Rollman, an attorney for Pima County. “You just can’t turn over a system without authority to operate it.”

Marana attorneys argued that the county was making it difficult for the town to start its own sewer utility because of a Catch-22 type situation.

Pima County rejected Marana’s “chicken or the egg” argument about setting up a sewer authority, claiming Marana is trying to “back in” starting a sewer service.

“(Marana will) get facilities and work backward to develop a plan based on the facilities,” Rollman said.

Cassidy compared the situation to getting registration for a car you don’t yet own.

If the town wins the conveyance system but not the treatment plant, it is likely a new agreement would need to be drawn up between the town and county to allow Marana to utilize the wastewater facility, Cassidy said.

In either case where Marana gains something, the town has already contracted Algonquin Environmental Services to assume operations of the sewer system.

Marana’s attorneys also argued that the treatment plant is not part of the new park because the map used to illustrate the area depicted the plant as a different color than the rest of the park.

“It’s as easy as that,” said Doug Metcalf, an attorney representing Marana.

County attorneys countered by referring to the wording of the resolution: “The Board hereby directs staff to take all necessary steps to retain ownership of the Park property and continue the expansion plans for the Marana Wastewater Treatment Facility located within the Park.”

“That ought to end the argument right there,” Rollman said.

The Pima County attorney added that a park does not have to contain baseball fields and playground equipment. A similar “passive park” already exists next to the Roger Road Wastewater Treatment Plant.

TIMELINE

July 11, 2007 – Marana dissolves an agreement with Pima County regarding the ownership of the Marana Wastewater Treatment Plant.

July 24 – The Pima County Board of Supervisors creates the Anza Park, which includes the treatment plant.

Oct. 17 – Marana files suit against Pima County alleging that dissolving an agreement with the county means the sewer plan belongs to the town.

Dec. 4 – The Marana Town Council votes to annex 526 acres, which includes the Marana Wastewater Treatment Plant in the Anza Park.

Dec. 5 – Marana’s lawsuit gets moved from the Pima County Superior Court to Maricopa County.

Dec. 20 – Pima County files suit against Marana, claiming the town must ask permission to annex the area the sewer plant sits on because the county designated the area as a park.

March 24, 2008 – The county’s lawsuit gets moved from the Pima County Superior Court to Maricopa County.

June 5 – Maricopa judge hears opening arguments for summary judgment.

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