FLORENCE — Recognizing the importance of San Tan Valley’s economic impact to the county, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday voted to support a proposal by Queen Creek to assist Johnson Utilities with a portion of the area’s utility service.
The board voted 4-0 to support the proposal. Supervisor Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, was absent.
Officials from the town of Queen Creek have asked the Arizona Corporation Commission to allow them to service parts of San Tan Valley and Florence Anthem that currently are receiving water and wastewater service from Johnson Utilities.
Paul Gardner, utilities manager for Queen Creek, said the town could take 2,200 homes off the Pecan Plant’s already-taxed system within three months. Five of the projects Gardner considers “low-hanging fruit” can be completed in six months, he said, taking more than 10,000 homes off the system.
Allowing Queen Creek to service some water and wastewater customers in the Johnson service area would give EPCOR Water, the company that’s been appointed by the Arizona Corporation Commission to be the interim manager of Johnson Utilities, time to make needed upgrades to the existing infrastructure.
EPCOR officials previously told ACC commissioners that the cost for needed improvements was in the area of $170 million.
The Pinal supervisors authorized county staff to send a letter of support for Queen Creek’s plan, citing the need to stave off any type of homebuilding stoppage or slowdown.
Gardner said under the town’s proposal, no stay on hookups would be needed and the plan would allow for a more long-term solution than what EPCOR seeks. Building new connections is easier and cheaper than trucking effluent from the existing plants.
“EPCOR’s plan would be 200 trucks a day, 24/7 for three years,” Gardner said.
Under Queen Creek’s current proposal, Johnson Utilities would essentially be a large customer for Queen Creek; JU and EPCOR would still be in place.
Individual water and wastewater users would still receive their bills from Johnson Utilities while Queen Creek would bill JU for service.
Once sewer customers were connected to the town’s infrastructure, Gardner said, the hope would be they would stay connected and would become permanent customers of the town’s utility because of the cost of installation.
The proposal will need approval from both EPCOR, as the interim manager, and the Arizona Corporation Commission. At a hearing Monday, the ACC asked for more details on possible solutions — both short- and long-term — to the problems faced by Johnson Utilities.
The Queen Creek proposal wasn’t formally heard at that hearing but is expected to be presented at an upcoming meeting.
EPCOR has asked for and been granted a temporary stay on new line hookups to the water and wastewater systems. Developers, land brokers and homebuilders said any type of stay or moratorium on hookups would be devastating to Pinal’s long-term ability for growth in San Tan Valley.
Pinal County Supervisor Mike Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, said that while a moratorium on building would less than ideal, he said the reality is northern Pinal already has a stigma associated with it because of Johnson Utilities.
“There’s this talk that a moratorium would be a stigma on Pinal County.
But we already have a stigma because of what’s been going on out there,” he said. “Let’s just be honest in the discussion.”
Additionally, Goodman said, while the builders and developers have rights, the county’s responsibility is to the residents.
“Our first and foremost responsibility is to the people who live here,” Goodman said.
The Corporation Commission will consider the proposal at an open meeting scheduled for 2p.m. Thursday.