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Johnson Utilities proposes fixes for wastewater problems (copy) (copy)

FLORENCE — Johnson Utilities has plans, with the blessing of state environmental regulators, to solve issues of wastewater odor and capacity in San Tan Valley, a company attorney told the Pinal County Board of Supervisors last week.

Some supervisors, however, were skeptical and expressed frustration with so many state and private entities that don’t appear to be working well together while the county has little power over the issue.

“I do want to move forward, and as fast as possible,” Supervisor Mike Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, said at the June 10 session. “I hate government. I’m not a politician. I’m just a regular guy that has just tried to make a difference here, and government and politics get in the frickin’ way. It’s time to stop and get the job done. That’s my request to Johnsons; that’s my request to the ADEQ (Arizona Department of Environmental Quality); that’s my request to the ACC (Arizona Corporation Commission); and EPCOR,” the interim operator the ACC appointed to run JU in 2018.

Supervisor Todd House, R-Apache Junction, said he was excited to hear JU’s proposals.

“The end is in sight if we go this route,” House said.

Supervisor Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, said he’d like to hear EPCOR’s side. Miller also said JU owner George Johnson has promised many things over the years, yet customers are still waiting for results.

The ACC questioned why the county would hear from JU. The board clerk read a letter from ACC legal counsel Robin Mitchell, which said in part, “Because there is an interim manager in place who has operational control of the utility, Johnson ownership is not the proper entity to design solutions to any compliance issues.”

Attorney David Kimball presented Johnson Utilities’ plans, developed with the help of consultants, which he said would expedite compliance with environmental regulations and save ratepayers tens of millions of dollars at the Section 11 wastewater plant at Magic Ranch and the Pecan Creek wastewater plant on North Gantzel Road.

Kimball told the board that JU reached a “conceptual settlement” with ADEQ in November to achieve full compliance. ADEQ further approved a “compliance schedule” of cost-effective and timely solutions in May, he said.

Kimball said Johnson personally guarantees to fund projects within time frames established by the ADEQ, including initial projects during JU’s motion before the ACC to terminate the interim manager. Because JU’s plans would settle a lawsuit brought by ADEQ, JU would be under court order to complete them, Kimball told the board.

At the board’s previous meeting on May 27 supervisors declined to send a letter in support of either ADEQ’s authority or JU’s plans.

‘Tit for tat’

Goodman said the ACC and ADEQ “should be working together” on these issues. Supervisor Pete Rios, D-Dudleyville agreed, saying “Excuse the expression, but they have a pissing match going on. Who in the state of Arizona can get these entities to work together?” Rios asked, and suggested the state ombudsman.

Miller said it’s two state agencies playing “tit for tat” while 100,000 San Tan Valley residents suffer. Miller said these agencies exist for consumer protection but “they don’t protect anybody; it’s all about power.”

Miller also said customers have already been paying for a future expansion, and Johnson’s current proposals shouldn’t be justification for higher rates.

Kimball replied he understands the frustration, and compliance is not what it should have been. But he continued that JU can’t be faulted for coming up with a solution in 2017, going through the approval process and then being denied the ability to implement it because “an interim manager comes in and doesn’t do the very thing he has authority to do, and doesn’t do it for 21 months — even though they spent more money than was necessary to achieve the solution we know was readily available, and we had performance guarantees to achieve.”

Nancy Roberts and Larry Quick, both residents of Sun Valley Farms, north of Arizona Farms Road near Florence, spoke to the board in support of Johnson Utilities. Roberts said JU solved a huge problem for the community and has always responded to problems quickly, efficiently and responsibly. Quick added if anything, since EPCOR took over, his water pressure has gone down.

No action was scheduled, and the board took no action, except to ask County Manager Louis Andersen for direction on the county’s position or potential action. Andersen replied the board could choose to write a letter to the state agencies in response to JU’s proposals. The board could also invite EPCOR to share its plans at a future meeting.

Andersen said ADEQ sent its regrets on being unable to attend the June 10 meeting but might also like to address the board at a future date. He said the county could also contact the state ombudsman, as Rios suggested.

Fixes are overdue

Goodman said that at a lunch meeting years ago among county officials, staff and top JU officials, “There were certain commitments made to us as a county, and one of them was an overall plan for how this thing was going to go,” including closing the troubled Section 11 plant and designs for a new Copper Basin plant. “We’ve yet to see any of that.”

Goodman continued that compliance issues have been going on for years, and to now blame EPCOR “is just unheard of. They were sent to clean this up.

“I’ve gotten phone calls from developers pounding me, pounding me, because they’re stifled in what they can do. But I tell them ‘You know what? You’re going to come and go. At the end of the day it’s the people who live here, it’s the ratepayers, it’s us as a county who’s going to be left.’”

With EPCOR in charge, Goodman said he’s not getting complaints of a school shutting down for lack of water or residents running out of water in the middle of summer. “I don’t have raw sewage coming up in neighborhoods right now.”

Goodman said it’s true, San Tan Valley grew faster than anyone anticipated, and he’s empathetic to that. But when the economy took a downturn, if the utility was run like any kind of municipality preparing for growth, “it would have been planned and developed a lot better than what it is.

“You guys have come in here with all kinds of fixes — why? Because they need to be done.” They should’ve been done before, “and they weren’t,” Goodman said.

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Major sports training, entertainment complex planned in Florence

FLORENCE — A major sports training complex in the northern town limits with fields, courts, lodging, retail stores and family entertainment has been proposed.

Grinder Sports Group Inc.’s 350-acre project will require a Major General Plan Amendment and annexation into the town limits. It will be “designed to provide a catalyst and mind-body inspiration motivating athletes to become Olympians and professional athletes,” according to the application to the town.

“This is really exciting; this is something we’ve been working on and talking about for quite some time now, so it’s great to see it brought before us this evening,” Mayor Tara Walter said at Monday’s Town Council meeting.

Grinder Sports Group plans to build “a world-class training and academic educational destination” for aspiring athletes in baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, basketball, volleyball, tennis, football, pickleball, field hockey and track. There will also be a fully equipped medical and rehabilitation facility for athletes’ short- and long-term needs.

Plans include 30 baseball fields, a baseball stadium with up to 5,000 seats, a softball/youth baseball stadium, 20 collegiate-size soccer and multi-use fields, 12 basketball and volleyball courts, 10 tennis courts, a fitness center and other facilities.

Grinder Sports is also planning housing, a satellite college campus, a charter school campus and family entertainment center with miniature golf, bowling, paintball, movie theater, hotels, restaurants and retail and office space. Grinder expects the direct creation of more than 2,000 jobs.

There are also plans for a state-of-the-art esports venue. According to Wikipedia, esports often refers to organized, multiplayer video game competitions, particularly among professional players, individually or as teams.

The complex will be 350 acres on two sites, both of which are currently farmland. One is bounded by the northwest corner of Felix and Bella Vista roads and the southeast corner of Judd and Cooper roads. The other site is bounded by the northeastern corner of Judd and Felix roads and southeast corner of Magma and Cooper roads.

The property owner, Guardian Angel Holdings, has granted written permission for Grinder Sports to submit the application for a Major General Plan Amendment, town Planner Larry Harmer told the council.

The land is currently classified in the town’s General Plan to be developed as low-medium density residential commercial and office. Grinder is seeking a change to commercial/residential mixed use.

In preparation for this amendment, the town has distributed copies of the application to neighboring jurisdictions and agencies for a 60-day comment period.

The Florence Planning and Zoning Commission will hold public hearings on Aug. 20 and Sept. 3. The Town Council will hold a public hearing and possibly take action on the General Plan amendment on Oct. 5.

The council could vote to approve at that time, but it would not go into effect until the annexation is complete, Harmer told the council. Grinder is currently preparing an application to initiate annexation.

After other approvals, including a development agreement with the town, Grinder hopes to break ground on the project’s first phase later next year, Harmer told PinalCentral.

Grinder intends to partner with the town to bring the infrastructure up to the task, including the complex’s own water supply and wastewater treatment.

“Currently there is insufficient water and waste infrastructure,” Grinder’s General Plan Amendment application notes.

“We will participate with the town of Florence to expand water, waste and energy infrastructure capacity, which will also have the added benefit of serving nearby areas and reducing the strain on their current infrastructure. Grinder is committed to working with the town and county to build out this water, waste and energy infrastructure.”

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New downtown housing community planned

FLORENCE — A Scottsdale company known for its modern, award-winning residential developments is planning to build a community of 112 rentals north of Heritage Park in the town’s Territory Square District.

The Town Council gave town staff authority to negotiate a development agreement with MODUS Holdings Inc. at Monday’s meeting. The town will sell approximately 30 acres.

“Council provided a challenge and an opportunity for staff about six months ago to get a request for proposals on the street for a development partner in Territory Square,” Town Manager Brent Billingsley told the council. “We received an excellent proposal from MODUS.”

Owner Ed Gorman “is very well-known nationwide for zero-impact development and is seen as a pioneer in that particular field,” Billingsley said.

The first phase is planned for 112 units, but that could change “because we’re early in this process,” Billingsley said. It would be built on 10 acres that are out of the Gila River flood plain.

The second phase would be an additional 220 housing units on land that is currently still in the flood plain.

“Through a public-private partnership, the town would work with the development team to take land out of the flood plain and bring public improvements, including utilities and transportation infrastructure, to that site for a successful development,” Billingsley told the council.

MODUS has bid approximately $43,000 per acre for the town’s land, Billingsley said.

The town will reinvest the proceeds into the land, “taking more of this area in the north end plan out of the flood plain,” Billingsley said.

The town has invested millions of dollars over the years in infrastructure and planning to make the property ready for such a development, he said.

The proposed first-phase concept is for a single-family rental community with single-story detached and semi-attached homes.

There will be a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units, each with a private backyard and pet doors.

There will be 112 units in all, with 42 being one-bedrooms, 59 two-bedrooms and 11 three-bedrooms, according to MODUS.

The town may waive certain fees and provide flexibility in development standards as part of its Town Core Infill Incentive Plan, according to a town staff report.

With its name an acronym for modern, urban and smart, MODUS introduced itself this way in its written proposal to town staff:

“A leading developer in eco friendly living, Arizona-based MODUS development creates innovative buildings with award-winning environmentally friendly designs that are located in prime urban locations.

“Nationally recognized as one of the premier developers of Net Zero Energy (NZE) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) buildings, MODUS conducts extensive market research and gauges future trends to deliver a product of superior quality and design.”

Some of MODUS’s other developments include:

  • The Galleries at Turney in Phoenix,
  • Loft 52 in Phoenix,
  • Dusk in Scottsdale,
  • Eclipse in Scottsdale,
  • MZ in Scottsdale,
  • Parc Rivier in San Diego.

The company is also planning a single-family rental project called Casa Grande Commons on North Mission Parkway in Casa Grande.

In other business Monday:

  • The council adopted a tentative annual budget of $47,075,242. The council will hold a public hearing on July 6 prior to adoption of the final budget.
  • Sitting as the board of directors of Merrill Ranch Community Facilities District No. 2, council members voted to refinance $1.1 million in general obligation bonds to a lower interest rate. The bonds were sold with an average interest rate of 6.11% 10 years ago. Western Alliance Bank submitted the low bid to buy them at 3.28%.

The district is expected to save about $355,000 and will retire the debt in the next two to three years, financial adviser Mark Reader told the board.