Candidates for Marana Town Council offices agree the town must continue its legal and legislative battle to assume control of wastewater treatment services — and the valuable effluent that results — from Pima County. Their responses to wastewater litigation with the county, and legislation intended to force the county to negotiate, are compiled from two candidate forums, held on Jan. 26 at Heritage Highlands at Dove Mountain and on Feb. 3 at the Wheeler Taft Abbett, Sr., Branch Library.
Candidate Jeffrey Gray was not present at the forums. He has been invited to respond to the question; his answer will appear in the Feb. 16 edition of The Explorer.
“The chemical symbol for gold in Marana is H2O,” council candidate Bowen said. Every drop of water Maranans pull from their taps must be offset through groundwater recharge. Bowen pointed out the money spent by Maranans on water recharges credits. “That’s why our wastewater to us is so important,” he said.
Yet, he continued, “Pima County controls” Marana’s wastewater. “They say we don’t have the rights to it. We just want that water back.
“If we have control over that water, we have control over our destiny,” he said.
Bowen is supportive of the town’s approach, from negotiation to litigation, and now proposed legislation.
“Some people only understand when you can stand up to them,” Bowen said. “We have our positions, and we want to fight for them. This is what we want to do, what we intend to do. We don’t want to be angry at you, and throw epithets your way. If you’re not cooperative, we’ll go around you. It takes being firm, committed and forceful.”
And, he said, construction and interest costs are “the lowest they’ve been in a very long time,” he continued. “Now is the time to consider options” to build wastewater treatment facilities in Marana.
Marana had “no other options but to file a lawsuit” against Pima County over wastewater, incumbent Councilman Clanagan believes. Each side has had victories in the case.
Clanagan said nearly every other major Arizona town treats its own wastewater, and controls the effluent often used for groundwater recharge. That’s why Marana has worked for legislation that would allow it to take over the service.
“We want to be treated like everyone else,” Clanagan said. “We want to control our own destiny. Our ability to grow is being stifled by the county’s lack of cooperation. We will continue to battle … to manage our wastewater services.”
The county has proceeded “in such a way that they’re absolutely wasting water,” Clanagan said. Treated wastewater “runs down the Santa Cruz River every day. It can be put to better use,” through recharge that earns Marana groundwater credits.
Clanagan believes Marana must “continue to work, sit at the table, talk about things, one on one” with Pima County.
“We have more in common than we do have as differences. I haven’t given up on the county; I haven’t given up on the city” of Tucson, Clanagan said. “The challenge, taken with a huge dose of salt, is to work with people you don’t agree with.”
In Ziegler’s view, Marana has been “held down by Pima County” on wastewater, and on other issues.
“I will take on the county, and I will take on Sharon Bronson,” the Pima County supervisor whose district includes Marana, Ziegler said. Bronson “has done very little for us the last three years.”
Ziegler, the incumbent council member, refers to the 1979 intergovernmental agreement between Marana and Pima County regarding wastewater treatment. It contained a 180-day exit clause, which Marana exercised. “That’s what we did, we said, ‘thanks, we can do it on our own.’” The county said “absolutely not.” Marana sued Pima County over wastewater treatment, and the litigation continues.
“It’s been a cash cow for them for 35 years,” Ziegler continued, and customer bills have increased 40 percent this year. “Money from your wallets that should have gone into refurbishing the treatment centers went into everything else,” she said. “Let’s take it, and do it ourselves.”
She sees little alternative to litigation, and now legislation.
“We have sat down with the Board of Supervisors,” said Ziegler, a professional negotiator. “I don’t believe we can sit down and talk. … You can’t reason with these guys anymore.”
“We didn’t want to be in the wastewater business,” said the incumbent mayor, unopposed in his bid for re-election.
Years ago, he and former Marana Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat met with county officials “to get that water. If they would have given it to us, we wouldn’t have this fight. We tried to work with the county.”
Marana wants the effluent “so we can recharge water and keep potable water rates down,” he said. When Marana approached Pima County about acquiring its share of treated effluent, “they told us to pound sand. They said, ‘we’ll give you, basically, 20-25 percent.’ And the lack of water resources and certainty of water supply has hampered Marana’s ability to grow.
“Our life depends on having control of our wastewater,” the mayor said. “We need that effluent.”
The legislation had moved through second reading in the Arizona Senate last week, and is expected to be up for third and final reading in that chamber this week. It “will make them come to the table and negotiate with us.”
Honea said he has “the backbone and the willpower to fight for our citizens” over wastewater and other issues.
Early ballots will be distributed starting Feb. 10. For more election information, visit www.marana.com and click on the Elections button under Town Clerk.