Community meeting questions information provided by sanitary district

A preliminary map of the Tri-City Regional Sanitary District. Existing sewer lines in the Miami service area are in orange and yellow, while Globe’s system is in green. The maps will be redrawn before the project moves forward. Map by Pace Engineering.

In an attempt to bring awareness to what is happening with the Tri-City Regional Sanitary District (TRSD), local contractor Fred Barcón last week called a gathering of constituents for the district to point out what he sees as flaws in the proposed sewer project and call residents to action to have their voices heard about the issues.

Barcón is a former project manager for the Town of Miami and owner of the Barcón Corporation, a general engineering and construction firm with offices in the unincorporated area between Globe and Miami on Highway 188 north of Highway 60. He is also on the board of the Gila County Industrial Development Authority, an organization that provides tax-exempt bond financing and low-interest business loans to provide “significant opportunities for industrial and commercial development in the County.”

His business is in the TRSD Designated Management Area (DMA) and he pays taxes in the district, but it is likely his business will not obtain service from the district.

For several months since TRSD announced a 41 percent tax increase for residents in the DMA, Barcón has been on a mission to encourage people living in the district to get involved and have their voices heard regarding the sewer project that will ultimately cost more than $72 million.

Last week’s meeting saw about 40 people packed into the IBEW building on Highway 188 to hear what Barcón had to say. On hand were Globe Mayor Al Gameros, currently chair of Central Arizona Governments (CAG) and owner of two properties in the TRSD, as well as TRSD attorney Bill Clemmens and his assistant Roxie Hadley and the project’s lead engineer Mike Krebs of PACE Advanced Water Engineering.

At one time, Gameros attempted to run for a seat on the board but since his residence of record is in Globe, he was not allowed to run. Now, as chair of CAG, he will oversee the approval of the TRSD DMA map, which must be approved before the project can move forward.

Barcón opened the meeting stating there is a need for the project, but at this point there are too many “discrepancies” in the information TRSD is providing to the public.

“We’re all for a wastewater project, to a man,” he said. “We just don’t feel this is the way to go.”

He then read from a prepared agenda questioning the grant-loan ratios reported by the USDA-RD program providing the initial $28 million in funding for Phase I of the three-phase project. The first phase is largely in the Claypool area.

According to information provided by both TRSD and USDA representative Robert Hayes at the September TRSD board meeting, ratepayers in Phase 1 will pay back $12 million, representing a 60-40 percent split.

Barcón believes the split should be more in the 80-20 percent range, pointing to the funding the Town of Miami received from USDA for its $25 million sewer upgrade.

He also thinks TRSD should put more effort into partnering with Globe and Miami to reduce costs, take advantage of existing infrastructure and reduce “duplication” of existing lines.

The district has stated that the difference between building a new treatment plant with multiple lift stations and lines would only be about $200. But Krebs said the difference is more like $200,000, as the stated difference is per hookup and not for the entire project.

The project has hit another delay, though, as both the City of Globe and the Town of Miami are in the process of reevaluating their own DMA maps, which will affect the boundaries of the TRSD.

Globe’s city council chose to redraw its DMA map to ensure its service area is not included in the TRSD’s final map.

CAG has the final say in the mapping, as each entity must get approval under Section 208 of the Clean Water Act.

“For the last three years we have not had a lot of information from the board or from the engineering company,” Gameros began. “This last meeting where the USDA was present and the attorneys were present, is the most information we’ve received in three years.”

Gameros believes the glut of information is the result of the USDA making the funds available, hence the need to redraw the maps to ensure accurate accounting for each service provider.

In a subsequent interview, Globe’s Public Works Director Jerry Barnes said the existing TRSD DMA came about by combining the maps of Cobre Valley and Pinal Sanitary districts, which were merged by the county in 2010.

“We’re going to make sure our current customers have our trust and we’re looking at areas of future expansion,” Barnes said. “But we’re still in support of something happening in the area.”

He added the TRSD DMA would not be official until it is approved by CAG as required by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

Miami Town Manager Joe Heatherly said he has been directed by Town Council to define its service area, which includes Miami Gardens where TRSD board president Bob Zache lives.

“We’re asking CAG to look at it,” Heatherly said in a recent interview.

It is not clear if Zache will be able to remain on the TRSD board should the respective mapping be approved.

For his part, Barcón encouraged those in attendance to petition Congressman Tom O’Halleran to intervene to “represent the best interest of the taxpayers.”

The petition, handed out freely to anyone interested, states in part, “We, as citizens and taxpayers of the Tri-City District, wish to voice our concern over the fact that neither the Tri-City Regional Sanitary District board nor USDA Rural Development staff will address our concerns and are not representing the best interest of the taxpayers.

“There are numerous issues with the proposed project including duplication of infrastructure, building a third wastewater treatment plant (against gravity flow) in an area that does not have the population base to support the tax burden nor the annual maintenance and operations costs, building a lift station in a floodway (added expense to fortify to protect against contamination being released into the creek), and numerous other issues with the proposed plan driving the costs of the project into the $80-90 million range.

“We are fully aware that failed systems will result in health and safety issue within the Tri-City District, and we are grateful that the issue is being addressed. However, the engineering of the proposed project appears to be nonsensical and it is quite astonishing that USDA Rural Development would approve such a project without more oversight into establishing a cost-effective solution.”

The next meeting of the TRSD takes place at 5:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 10 at the Tri-City Fire District, located at 4280 Broadway in Claypool. The meeting agenda can be found here.

Previous Silver Belt coverage of the issue is located here.

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