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  • Writer's pictureBill Spain

Pinewood Sanitary District Confronted with Soaring Costs

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

Inflation has stuck its ugly head into nearly every aspect of our lives! Energy costs are up nearly 40%. Business costs have risen to the highest levels in more than four decades. Everything costs more and that is problematic for utilities when costs rise that much and that quickly. It ultimately has to be passed on to the public. The Pinewood Sanitary District Board of Directors has studied this issue over the last year. It has convened a Budget Study Group to address the problem this spring.

With that in mind, it is an excellent time to review the Sanitary District’s history and recap the District’s issues. Board member Dick Drinen took the time to summarize the history of the District over his past twenty years of oversight and shared it with the board last year. His historical rendition was provided by Fred Heisley who had been a former board member and Dick’s next-door neighbor for many years. Dick supplemented the remainder of the information from his first-hand knowledge.

The original sewer plant was constructed by “The Pinewood Development Company, (PDC) “ in 1968 and was located on the shore of Lake ODell. The plant was formed as a necessity to support the new “Pinewood Subdivision” which was also formed in 1968, absorbing the prior “Northernaire/Oakwood subdivision,” which had failed. The “PDC” was formed by James Welch, Edward Robson, Jay Greene and Emanual Goldstein. The original plant was relocated and developed at the current location adjacent to the I-17 highway in 1972.

The plant grew and was purchased from the “PDC” in 1988 by Richard Williamson. At that time, the growth within Munds Park/Pinewood was fast and furious. The cost of growth for the facility was under-planned, and the lack of capability resulted in numerous violations from the Health Department. Consent orders were issued by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), requiring the plant to make improvements immediately. In 1987, ADEQ modified the plant’s usage to allow for effluent to be used to irrigate the Pinewood Country Club golf course.

Unfortunately, the group did not make enough progress on the administrative consent orders. ADEQ issued a “Cease and Desist Order” to Richard Williamson, Pinewood Country Club and Pinewood Sewer Company for serious violations of Federal and State environmental laws and regulations. Everything Stopped in August 1993. No further building was allowed, and no additional toilet hook-ups. Munds Park was at a standstill. ADEQ required immediate action to prevent future violations.

At the same time, Coconino County became involved and the “Pinewood Sanitary District,” (PSD), was formed on May 18, 1992, by the Coconino County Board of Supervisors. The initial board consisted of three members until a general election was held in the fall of 1992, when an additional four members were added to comprise a board of seven members. Kay Blackman served as the chairman, and the facility was ultimately named after him. The purchase agreement was drafted between Pinewood Sewer Company as the seller and the Pinewood Sanitary District as the buyer. The plant was sold to Pinewood Sanitary District for $1,250,000 with the Pinewood Sanitary District, a political subdivision of the state of Arizona as the buyer. The board commenced operations on January 26, 1994. The original bond payment was $12.22, plus the Operations and Maintenance fee of $12.22, for a total bill of $24.44.

It became incumbent upon the board of directors to oversee the operations, with the plant manager taking control to build a solid operating team. Kay Blackman became the district manager. The District had an office in the Coldwell Banker building at 20 W Pinewood Blvd for the first few years of operation. Kay Blackman (Blackie) retired in 1997 and was replaced by Jim Wilson, who served as the district manager for the next twenty-four years.

In 1994, plant improvement requirements issued by an ADEQ Consent Decree for $4,000,000 in general obligation bonds were issued. An additional $16.22 was added to the sewer bill to make these required improvements. In addition, over the years, increases to the operations and maintenance fee were enacted to keep up with the operations costs, raising the “O & M” fee to $50.57 per household. The $16.22 bond payment was paid in full in July 2011. In 1995, the plant was brought into compliance with an operating capacity of 600,000 gallons per day. Effluent regulations were achieved in the fall of 1997.

During that time, Munds Park continued to have unbridled growth. The Park grew to service 2904 properties on the East side of the Park. (Only 106 vacant lots remain on the East side of Munds Park.) Commercial growth added all but three East side businesses to the sewer district. (The Post Office, CenturyLink and the former Hair Salon are still on septic.) The Westside businesses all asked to be annexed into the District between 2005 and 2013, and that expansion has occurred over the last ten years. All current open and operating West side businesses will be brought onto the sewer district this spring except for those lots with no construction or phases of the RV Park that are still on their original septic systems.

The Inspire RV Park have paid phase three and phase four construction and capacity costs. Shuster has paid their construction and operating costs except for phase 5 of undeveloped land. Billing for unpaid vacant properties has been issued, and a plan of action relative to that collection is in process.

In the past several years, many changes have occurred at the District. After almost a quarter century at the helm, Jim Wilson retired in 2020. Long-term operational-oriented employee Lee Krosnicki was promoted. Years of growth coupled with the plant aging process have produced serious issues for the plant.

PSD has incurred several violations that resulted in two Administrative Consent Orders from ADEQ. A combination of several 100 to 500 year floods, aging equipment, and peak population swings during the summer monsoon months resulted in serious violations. At one time, partially treated effluent (liquid waste or sewage) had to be released into the Munds Canyon Creek, which ultimately flows in the Oak Creek and Verde River tributaries.

In the last three months, further violations have occurred when the snow melt and rain have exceeded our capacity to handle the water flow through the sewer resulting in discharges of over 1,900,000 gallon flows. ADEQ is now filing violation after violation against PSD. The engineering firm retained by PSD three years ago delivered a less-than-acceptable report to ADEQ nearly two years late, causing consternation between the District and ADEQ.

Ultimately, ADEQ will force the District to install a 1.3 million gallon holding tank to handle the substantial intermittent flows that have plagued us over the last few years. This will cost a lot of money. In addition, operating costs are way up which will necessitate a rate increase. The board seeks to lower the impending rate increase by reducing operational costs through automation and improving workflow.

In next month’s update in the Pinewood News, look for a detailed description of the board’s process to determine how to best move forward with addressing the Administrative Consent Orders and Violations issued by ADEQ. In addition, we will describe the necessary plant upgrades to bring the Pinewood Sanitary District in line with ADEQ and working at acceptable levels.


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