During a Monday midnight handoff, the town of Marana took control of the disputed Marana wastewater treatment plant and sewer system from Pima County.
The county protested the takeover, saying Marana hasn't paid for the plant, doesn't have the state and federal permits to operate it, and the state law that allowed the takeover is unconstitutional.
Marana has contracted with EUSI LLC to operate the facility at 14393 W. Luckett Road, which serves 1,800 customers on the north side of the town.
Marana Town Manager Gilbert Davidson said the town is operating under the county's permits and working with the state to have new permits issued.
"We don't agree that Marana should be running the plant," said Jackson Jenkins, director of Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation Management.
"We're going to obey the law; we're going to do it in protest; and we're going to follow the due recourse that we have," he added.
"It's their choice," Davidson responded. "Marana has set out to operate its own wastewater system to be able to manage its own water resources. That was our goal to begin with, and that's still our goal today."
Taxpayers can expect more lawsuits to come.
In 2007, the town annexed the county plant and tried to claim ownership. When that plan was rejected in Superior Court, the town asked the state Legislature for a law that would allow it to take over the plant by paying only the outstanding debt.
The new state law took effect July 3, and the town gave the county the required six months' notice. The midnight Monday hand-over meeting was scheduled a week ago.
Davidson said the town is only exercising its rights. He said the town can manage its own water resources best. He also said the town wants to issue its own development permits without involving the county.
When ownership legally changed hands, there was a literal transfer, too, with representatives from both Marana and the county meeting at the plant.
Both sides said the meeting was professional.
Jenkins said he gave town representatives the keys, operating manuals and logbooks.
Four county employees who worked at the plant left the facility in very good condition and were reassigned to vacant county positions, he said.
The employees now running the plant work for EUSI LLC, the contractor. The county offered a quickly scheduled job-shadowing opportunity on Saturday, but only two people met with the lead operator.
Pima County says the contractor can't use the county's state permits to operate the plant, according to a memo from County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality told Davidson in a letter that the state agency wouldn't permit the town to operate the facility before the town and the county sign an agreement for the transfer of four state permits. No agreement is in the works.
Huckelberry and Jenkins said Marana could already be in violation of government rules. But Davidson said ADEQ is OK with operations consistent with the original permit until new permits are issued.
Pima County will bill Marana for $18 million, which is the principal and interest owed on the facility.
"That number pales in comparison" to the $27 million that the county paid, Jenkins said. "It doesn't fairly compensate the ratepayers."
Taxpayers and ratepayers can also expect years of lawsuits.
Both the town and the county are appealing a previous Superior Court ruling on the matter: Pima County is suing the state over the constitutionality of the new law, and the county Board of Supervisors may decide to sue the town for operating the plant without the needed permits. There also could be legal actions and appeals around the permits themselves.
"I hope the county eventually sees that we are committed to operating our own system to manage our water resources," Davidson said. "If they want to continue to sue and litigate, I think that's unfortunate."
"We're going to obey the law; we're going to do it in protest; and we're going to follow the due recourse that we have."
director of Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation Management
Contact reporter Becky Pallack at email@example.com or 573-4346.