SAN TAN VALLEY — EPCOR Water, the company appointed to run Johnson Utilities two years ago, announced it has reached an agreement to buy it.
The town of Florence, which seriously considered buying JU itself in past years, hasn’t taken a position for or against EPCOR’s pending purchase.
But Vice Mayor John Anderson, who is also a JU customer, said Tuesday, “It can only get better. I’m excited about it. I think EPCOR will do a good job for us. They’ve got a pretty good reputation and they seem to be serious about what they’re doing.”
Anderson said EPCOR stays in regular contact with Town Manager Brent Billingsley about various situations. “There’s still a lot of work that they’ve got to do and they’ve got a big job in front of them.”
He said service has been somewhat better with EPCOR in charge. JU used to bring truckloads of sewage from its Section 11 plant in Magic Ranch to be treated in Anthem, and Anthem residents smelled it. There are still odors, but “compared to what we had before, I would say we’ve seen a marked improvement.”
Benjamin Bitter, the town’s intergovernmental and communications manager, commented by email: “We are anxious to review filings with the Arizona Corporation Commission, and will remain involved in those proceedings for as long as necessary to ensure all our residents are receiving the safe and adequate provision of water and wastewater services from the utility, regardless of the operator.”
Florence residents who live in Anthem are served by Johnson Utilities water and sewer. In all, Johnson Utilities serves approximately 29,450 water and 40,160 wastewater customers in Florence, Queen Creek and San Tan Valley.
Johnson Utilities General Manager Gary Drummond had no comment Tuesday. The sale is pending regulatory approval and completion of the financial transaction. The sales price was not disclosed. The Arizona Corporation Commission must also approve the sale.
The ACC appointed EPCOR to step in and run JU in response to customer complaints, and JU had opposed the move ever since, in filings before the ACC and in court. JU argued to the ACC earlier this year that EPCOR had been a “poor and negligent” manager with obvious conflicts of interest, including pressuring JU’s owners to sell the company.
The Pinal County Board of Supervisors wrote to the ACC last month asking for short-term fixes to keep the Section 11 and Pecan wastewater plants running so homes may continue to be built in San Tan Valley.
The smelly Section 11 plant in Magic Ranch near Florence has been especially troublesome and has essentially stopped construction for two years in southern San Tan Valley. EPCOR has proposed replacing it completely with a new plant in Copper Basin.
JU officials have argued that this will take too long — perhaps five years — and said it would be faster and more cost efficient to replace it with a new enclosed plant.
Since becoming JU’s interim manager 25 months ago, “We’ve enhanced service for these customers, but there is more work to be done and we are committed to helping the community chart a course for the future,” Joe Gysel, president of EPCOR USA, said in a news release. “Bringing this service area and these customers into EPCOR will start a new chapter focused on safety, reliability and service for these communities.”
EPCOR Water Arizona Inc. is a subsidiary of EPCOR USA Inc., with headquarters in Phoenix. EPCOR’s subsidiaries build, own and operate water and wastewater and natural gas facilities and infrastructure in the Southwestern United States. EPCOR is among the largest private water utilities in the Southwest and the largest in Arizona, providing water, wastewater, wholesale water and natural gas services to approximately 670,000 people across 39 communities and 17 counties in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
It is part of EPCOR Utilities Inc., which builds, owns and operates electrical, natural gas and water transmission and distribution networks; water and wastewater treatment facilities; sanitary and stormwater systems; and infrastructure in Canada and the United States. EPCOR, headquartered in Edmonton, is an “Alberta Top 75” employer.