The Town of Marana has hosted a pair of open houses — the most recent last week at Wheeler Taft Abbett Sr. Library on N. Schisler Drive, to help educate the public about the town’s pursuit of a wastewater system.

Marana will place two ballot measures before town voters at its first all vote-by-mail election on March 12. The primary question voters are being asked to approve would to authorize the town to own and operate a wastewater system, while the second question would authorize the town to own and operate the small Rillito Vista Wastewater Treatment facility as part of the overall system. 

Approval from Marana’s voters is needed, according to Frank Cassidy, Marana’s town attorney, to allow the town the ability to run its own wastewater system.

The town and Pima County have been wrestling with each other for years over the rights to wastewater and ownership of Rillito Vista, with a number of lawsuits sprouting from the disagreement. The Marana town council recently authorized the town staff to negotiate with Pima County on one of two options the county offered to settle their dispute over the purchase of the Rillito Vista facility.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors had offered two settlement options with Marana. Settlement Option A would have Marana pay the county $18.2 million for the wastewater plant and the land around it. Pima County would then support operating permits for Marana to operate the plant, but would retain operational control of the sewer system for the rest of the town and unincorporated county areas.

Option B would have Pima County own and operate the plant, but would turn over the plant’s effluent to Marana. In both options, the legislature would have to repeal Arizona Senate Bill 1171, passed in 2011, that gave Marana the right to take over the wastewater facility from the county.

The Rillito Vista facility serves approximately 2,100 customers in the northwest part of Marana, where the town also is a water provider.

Del Post, deputy town manager, said that if the town is authorized to own and operate the wastewater system, it will give Marana the benefits and responsibilities of serving a large area where significant growth is planned.

“The town council decided to pursue Option A, and acquire and operate the plant,” Post said. “We have been trading drafts of agreements with Pima County and anticipate a settlement will likely be reached before the March vote. There are no sticking points, but a great many details go into this so we’re reviewing the documents very carefully.”

Ed Honea, Marana’s mayor, said that if the town manages the wastewater system, it then has the ability to maximize renewable water supplies for its residents.

“We would have permanent ownership of the current and future flow of water produced by the system, which can be used to replace water pumped from the ground,” Honea said. “If the cost of water continues to rise, as it has been, this would reduce our future expense of acquiring water resources for our residents and customers.”

Another benefit of the town managing its own wastewater system, Honea added, is that any businesses wishing to move into the town or expand within north Marana would only need to deal with the town on water and wastewater issues, instead of two separate governmental agencies.

Honea noted there are concerns for the town in managing the system.

“Any outstanding debt on the existing wastewater treatment plant remains the responsibility of Marana,” he said. “And if we decided to either expand or modernize the plant, those costs would be borne exclusively by the town.”

He added that the town also would be responsible for complying with existing and future wastewater regulations in the system.

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