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SAN TAN VALLEY — Even though EPCOR has been running Johnson Utilities for two years already, customers should notice several welcome changes after it becomes the owner, the company said.

“Customers will have access to more resources in customer service and account management, as well as a variety of bill discount programs,” EPCOR said by email in response to questions from PinalCentral. “We also have conservation specialists that work directly with customers, and extensive in-house expertise in water quality.”

EPCOR emphasized that the Arizona Corporation Commission must still approve its purchase of JU. EPCOR announced Monday that it had reached an agreement with the owners of JU to buy it.

“This sale also brings certainty and stability to customers, developers and homebuilders, and the region’s leaders. A sale of the utility is a critical step in unlocking an estimated $660 million in economic development for the region.” EPCOR’s ownership “will start a new chapter focused on safety and reliability,” the company said.

It wouldn’t say what, if anything, the change will do to rates. The ACC previously ordered JU to file a rate case earlier this year, and EPCOR expects that application to stay on course. “We only ask that whatever decision the ACC makes … provides adequate revenue to safely run and maintain the system.”

EPCOR has favored replacing the troubled Section 11 wastewater plant in Magic Ranch near Florence with a new plant in Copper Basin. Until recently, JU supported a new enclosed plant in Magic Ranch as a faster and more cost-effective solution. Last month, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors wrote to the ACC to ask for interim solutions to JU’s wastewater problems that would allow home construction to continue in San Tan Valley.

EPCOR told PinalCentral that it’s working with different stakeholders to find the right balance between short- and long-term solutions that protect customers and enable growth and development. As for Section 11 specifically, “We’re open to looking at all solutions, but we remain concerned that the Biolac (enclosed plant) proposal would not resolve odor issues and it wouldn’t be the long-term solution that this region, these customers and the system needs.

“EPCOR is fully committed to moving quickly and has the ability to fund and complete the work that still needs to be done and resolving the Section 11 issue is a priority. We have a lot of experience in large-scale infrastructure solutions and are eager to get started.” The company said it’s able to fund more than $129 million in improvements.

It declined to say what it will actually pay for JU, although “it is appropriate to the size and condition of the utility.” Johnson Utilities serves approximately 29,450 water and 40,160 wastewater customers in Florence, Queen Creek and San Tan Valley.

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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