State agency questions utility over spill - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

State agency questions utility over spill

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Posted: Friday, March 20, 2009 5:22 pm | Updated: 12:28 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Some Arizona Corporation Commission members are questioning why Johnson Utilities didn't notify the agency about a spill in Pinal County's Cambria Ocotillo neighborhood before they approved letting the utility expand its service area to two other neighborhoods.

New sewage spill blamed on Johnson Utilities

The utility went before the Corporation Commission March 3 to request to add 1.2 square miles to its service area in Pinal County.

That area comprises three planned developments: Skyline Estates, Quail Run Estates and the J.O. Combs Educational Village, according to Corporation Commission documents related to the case.

The commission approved extending the company's Certificate of Convenience and Necessity, which defines the company's service area, to expand as long as the company met certain conditions. Some of those conditions included coming into compliance with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality by Dec. 31 on issues involving problems at the Pecan Water Reclamation Plant last year.

ADEQ records show the company is now in compliance with an order to disinfect a wash near that plant.

However, Commissioner Sandra Kennedy asked that the decision on the Skyline Estates area be reconsidered by the Corporation Commission after news about an unrelated spill came out: a 9,000-gallon backup that occurred Feb. 22 in Pinal County's Cambria Ocotillo subdivision.

Johnson Utilities' Pecan Water Reclamation Plant, Queen Creek Wash, QUEEN CREEK, PINAL COUNTY, MARICOPA COUNTY, Combs Rd., Ellsworth Rd., Ocotillo Rd., Gantzel Rd., Ironwood Dr., Cloud Rd., Empire Blvd., Queen Creek Rd., Hunt Hwy., Graphic by Scott Kirchhofer/EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE

"I'm really hoping to find out why, at the time they were before us on March 3, the issue did not come up," Kennedy said.

The new spill involved two lines clogged with grease and other materials that backed up into two retention basins.

The wastewater was cleaned up, the area was disinfected and the pipes were flushed out, according to a report the company submitted to ADEQ.

The utility notified ADEQ about the spill the same day it happened and followed up with a report three days later, according to ADEQ records.

But notification didn't go to the Corporation Commission until March 13 - two days before a story on the spill was published in the Tribune.

The utility isn't required to notify the Corporation Commission about spills, said Rebecca Wilder, Corporation Commission spokeswoman.

However, since spills had been occurring, the company had been notifying the commission, Wilder said.

Kennedy and commission chair Kris Mayes both wanted the full commission to revisit the matter as a result, Wilder said.

"Because they had an application before the commission for a (service area expansion), the commissioners believed that the company should have notified the commission of the spill, and it is relevant to the case," Wilder said.

An item was placed on the commission's March 19 agenda to discuss possibly amending, rehearing or delaying the case, but it was pulled from the agenda because the lawyer handling the case for Johnson Utilities wasn't in town.

The item is expected to be placed on a future agenda, likely on March 31 or April 1, Wilder said.

Brian Tompsett, executive vice president for Johnson Utilities, said he was notified the commission wanted to discuss the situation the day before the meeting. The company's law firm sent the commission a letter explaining the lawyer handling the case was out of town.

"I understand the item will be placed back on a future agenda and the company will answer all the questions of the commissioners have at that time," Tompsett said in an e-mail.

ADEQ spokesman Mark Shaffer said Johnson Utilities notified ADEQ about the spill within the allotted time frame, but he said he couldn't confirm whether that incident was still being investigated.

"We can't comment about ongoing investigations," Shaffer wrote in an e-mail. "But we have encouraged Johnson Utilities to pursue a formal management and maintenance program for sewer operation and maintenance to minimize the risk of sewer overflows in their system."

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