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Latest News in San Tan Valley, AZ

Long-awaited San Tan Valley wastewater plant ends troubled utility saga, unlocks growth

A long-awaited wastewater plant is up and running in San Tan Valley, bringing an end to a yearslong saga of utility woes and paving the way for even more development in the rapidly-growing area.The Copper Basin Water Reclamation Plant marks a new page for the community, which was long served by troubled private water company Johnso...

A long-awaited wastewater plant is up and running in San Tan Valley, bringing an end to a yearslong saga of utility woes and paving the way for even more development in the rapidly-growing area.

The Copper Basin Water Reclamation Plant marks a new page for the community, which was long served by troubled private water company Johnson Utilities. As the area ballooned in population, residents saw overflowing sewers, water shortages and noxious fumes from the Section 11 Water Reclamation Facility off Hunt Highway.

State utility regulators ultimately appointed Epcor, another private water company, to take over Johnson Utilities. The company later purchased it, promising to fix a myriad of water and wastewater problems that plagued San Tan Valley residents and led to building limits in some parts of the region.

Since then, the unincorporated community has garnered a reputation as an affordable suburb with brand-new development within commuting distance of metro Phoenix. It has continued to grow as developers construct a limited number of homes allowed by Epcor's regional wastewater capabilities, putting itself on the map as the largest community in Pinal County.

The new wastewater facility is widely expected to unlock even more development in the region.

"The growth projections that I'm seeing out here — I don't even believe them," said Jacob Rogers, who oversees operations in Epcor's San Tan District and lives in the community.

But the potential boom comes as the community faces questions about its future. The area's roads and amenities have struggled to keep up with its growth, and its residents have long debated whether the area should become Pinal County's newest city.

The most recent attempt to incorporate the community is expected to appear on voters' ballots in 2025. Previous incorporation efforts have crashed and burned before even getting a vote, but state law has since changed to remove some barriers preventing the question from making it to voters.

Meanwhile, the community has never been bigger — or faced more traffic.

Ultimately, the incorporation attempt won't impact Epcor's new wastewater plant. The area is part of the company's service territory, something that won't change regardless of what path residents choose.

But it adds to a backdrop of transformation in San Tan Valley, which is rapidly shifting from sparsely populated desert to sprawling suburbia.

"We're looking at a lot of growth in that region," said Pinal County Supervisor Jeff McClure, who represents the area encompassing the new wastewater plant. "It's crazy numbers. We hear these numbers like, it's going to double, it's going to triple. If interest rates drop, I think we're just going to explode."

What was the problem with Johnson Utilities?

Suburban homes began dotting the undeveloped desert and farmland of San Tan Valley in the 2000s. Problems with the area's water and wastewater infrastructure quickly emerged as new residents moved in.

The owners of Johnson Utilities, the company serving the booming community, had long directed most of the proceeds from the utility to themselves and their other companies rather than reinvesting in infrastructure.

That eventually caught up with the utility. It had problems keeping raw sewage in its pipes. It couldn't control the odor at its wastewater facility. It struggled to deliver sufficient clean water to customers.

The problems led to more than 75 sewage overflows from 2010 through April 2018, countless customer complaints about water pressure and delayed construction on thousands of new homes and businesses because the utility didn't have the capacity to serve them.

After years of inaction, regulators eventually stepped in. The Arizona Corporation Commission forced company owner George Johnson to hand over management of his utility to Epcor in 2018.

It was the first time the Arizona Corporation Commission had ordered such a takeover of an operation the size of Johnson Utilities, which at the time had about 35,000 customers in parts of Florence, Queen Creek and the San Tan Valley area.

Epcor Senior Vice President Shawn Bradford said he and other Epcor officials quickly realized there were "significant" issues in Johnson Utilities' infrastructure.

"When we started to hear about some of the challenges down in San Tan, we went down on a few site visits and started to poke around," Bradford said. "We looked into the utility, toward some of the sites and recognized that this was in dire need of improvements."

As Johnson fought in the courts for control of his company, Epcor officials replaced broken and deficient pumps, added alarms to prevent sewage overflows and purchased infrastructure to treat water with high nitrate and arsenic levels.

Epcor ultimately purchased Johnson Utilities in 2021. One of its first promises was to replace the Section 11 sewer plant.

Under its ownership, Bradford said officials also have reduced water loss due to pipe leaks, improved customer service and begun reconfiguring the area's sewer system to rely on gravity rather than lift stations equipped with pumps.

"That's really how you build an efficient wastewater system, is you find the lowest points in the system to build your wastewater treatment plants," Bradford said. "You collect all that flow by gravity. And that's essentially what we're kind of doing now."

But paying for that new infrastructure won't be cheap. Epcor poured about $40 million of Johnson Utilities' money into repairing and upgrading infrastructure when the company took over its operations. Since then, Bradford said Epcor has invested about $150 million of its own dollars, of which $80 million went into the new Copper Basin Water Reclamation Plant.

That means customers can expect rates to increase — although Bradford couldn't say exactly how much bills will go up.

Epcor intends to file a rate case with the Corporation Commission for its San Tan District, he said, and will ask regulators to consolidate it with some of its other districts. That plan, if approved, would spread out the expense of the infrastructure upgrades across a larger customer base.

Setting San Tan Valley up to boom

The Section 11 plant currently processes about 1.2 million gallons of wastewater per day.

The facility was initially built to handle up to 1.6 million gallons per day, Rogers said. But the plant's technology is outdated, and Epcor officials say there's no way it can process much more wastewater than its current load.

Years ago, the company told developers and Pinal County officials that they would have to limit growth in the area served by the Section 11 plant while the new Copper Basin wastewater facility was built.

More houses and more people meant more wastewater that Section 11 wasn't designed to deal with.

Since then, Epcor's meter management program has limited developers in the area to two new water meters per month. But the new Copper Basin plant has far more wastewater capacity and will change the game, Rogers said. It means developers can start building a lot more homes.

"They're waiting," Rogers said. "We meet with the developers monthly and they drill us with questions."

Rogers said the new plant uses microorganisms to "concentrate what Mother Nature does in rivers and lakes." It can break down waste within a matter of hours. Located a few hundred feet away from the Copper Basin residential community, it also has extensive odor control technology.

Once processed, water from the plant will be of drinkable quality. Epcor officials say it will be used to recharge local aquifers, recycling water for the future. Solids from the process will be suitable for landfills and fertilizer, officials said.

During its first few weeks, Epcor officials said they will divert a few hundred thousand gallons per day from Section 11 to the Copper Basin plant.

Once the plant is fully online, it will be equipped to handle nearly all of the wastewater produced in the district on a daily basis. By the end of the year, officials hope it will have a capacity of at least 3 million gallons of wastewater per day.

They expect that number to grow to about 10 million gallons per day at full buildout.

"We'll build it out in increments over time as growth demands for it," Bradford said. "We have to be very careful that we don't overbuild it and build too much too fast, but we also have to keep up with the pace at which growth occurs."

As the new wastewater plant ramps up, Epcor officials will work toward decommissioning the old Section 11 facility. They intend to close the plant by the end of 2025.

After that, the land will be used for another purpose — possibly even housing.

"It can be anything," Rogers said. "We've got some interest from developers."

Sasha Hupka covers county government and regional issues for The Arizona Republic. Do you live in San Tan Valley and have a tip to share? Reach her at sasha.hupka@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter: @SashaHupka. Follow her on Threads: @sashahupkasnaps.

San Tan Valley residents air hopes and fears for incorporation at open house

San Tan Valley residents got their first opportunity to voice their concerns and desires regarding an ...

San Tan Valley residents got their first opportunity to voice their concerns and desires regarding an effort to incorporate the area as Arizona's newest city.

State of play: Opinions were mixed as board members from STV Inc. 2024 presented their first draft map of the proposed city boundaries to about 50 people at an open house Tuesday evening at San Tan Heights Community Center.

Catch up quick: STV Inc. 2024 hopes to refer an incorporation plan to the ballot next year.

Why it matters: Supporters say incorporation would give residents more control over local affairs, better services and more authority over their own tax revenue, which is collected and spent by the state and Pinal County.

What they're saying: "I think the people need to know what it's going to cost them," said resident Jerry Pierce.

Zoom in: Others who were more supportive of incorporation expressed concerns that their tax revenues are going to the county or neighboring Queen Creek, home to many of the businesses they patronize.

Meanwhile, one resident said San Tan Valley has the worst water in the area, and questioned whether an incorporated city would change that.

Between the lines: Some attendees' biggest concern with the proposed boundaries was they weren't within them.

What's next: STV Inc. 2024 will hold open houses on July 20 at the Pinal County Offices and Sept. 30 at San Tan Heights Community Center.

Woman attacked with a hammer in San Tan Valley; suspect arrested

Authorities say a man involved in the assault of a woman in Pinal County has been taken into custody.The Sheriff's Office says 39-year-old Patrick Wolfe hit the 81-year-old victim with a hammer on the night of Jan. 20 near .Court document details what allegedly happenedWe have obtained court documents in the case against Wolfe, which gave additional details on what happened.Documents state that PCSO was contacted on the afternoon of Jan. 20, with the caller reporting that Wolfe had attacked t...

Authorities say a man involved in the assault of a woman in Pinal County has been taken into custody.

The Sheriff's Office says 39-year-old Patrick Wolfe hit the 81-year-old victim with a hammer on the night of Jan. 20 near .

Court document details what allegedly happened

We have obtained court documents in the case against Wolfe, which gave additional details on what happened.

Documents state that PCSO was contacted on the afternoon of Jan. 20, with the caller reporting that Wolfe had attacked their friend. By the time deputies arrived, Wolfe had left the area where the attack happened.

"[Name redacted] was observed to have a wound to the side of her head, and was bleeding," read a portion of the court documents. "[Name redacted] was later transported to Chandler Regional Hospital for further medical care to include surgery."

Investigators wrote that the suspect and his mother went to a home to look at horses when the incident happened.

On Sunday, the the truck was spotted at San Tan Regional Park. Deputies searched the area and found Wolfe in a vacant trailer.

Wolfe, according to the documents, is accused of three counts of aggravated assault and a count of theft of means of transportation. A secured appearance bond of $10,000 has been set for Wolfe by a judge.

Victim's son speaks

AZ man accused of attacking woman with hammer

A woman in the San Tan Valley area is in the hospital after she was hit in the head with a hammer. FOX 10's Marissa Sarbak reports.

The victim was initially listed in critical condition. We spoke with her son on Jan. 22, who identified her as 81-year-old Marcia Adado.

"She’s had a hard life," said Mark Bird. "She brought up three boys basically on her own, and she didn’t deserve this. She just simply didn’t deserve this."

Bird said Wolfe was the son of Adado's best friend. Bird also said the incident was entirely unprovoked.

"Evidently, there were no problems of any sort, and all of a sudden, her best friend's son walked into a barn, grabbed some sort of hammer, and without warning or anything else, just walked up and walloped my mother in the side of the head," said Bird.

Bird said his mother is out of critical condition but remains in the ICU.

"I talked to her for about two minutes," said Mark Bird. "She knows who I am. She knows my voice. She just is having a really hard time forming words."

Bird also said the doctors have told him that the next few days will be critical.

"She had brain bleeding and brain swelling, and of course it fractured pieces of her skull and sent it into her brain," said Bird.

Adado's family reportedly wants to fly to Arizona from Michigan to see her, but do not have the financial resources to do so. A GoFundMe has been set up to help with some of the expenses.

Meanwhile, Bird is hoping his mother will be able to make a full recovery.

"Trying to get the word out, that the craziness in the world has to be eradicated," said Bird.

Paladin Sports Outreach Embarks on Bold Expansion in Arizona and Launches New Chapter in Minnesota

Paladin Sports Outreach, a renowned organization dedicated to providing recreational sports programs with a Christ-centered focus, has unveiled ambitious expansion plans that promise to significantly broaden its impact both within Arizona and beyond. During a recent announcement at LifePoint Church's Mission Sunday, Paladin's founder, Jason Best, shared the organization's vision to reach 25,000 kids annually by the end of 2026, a significant leap f...

Paladin Sports Outreach, a renowned organization dedicated to providing recreational sports programs with a Christ-centered focus, has unveiled ambitious expansion plans that promise to significantly broaden its impact both within Arizona and beyond. During a recent announcement at LifePoint Church's Mission Sunday, Paladin's founder, Jason Best, shared the organization's vision to reach 25,000 kids annually by the end of 2026, a significant leap from its current service to approximately 3,500 kids a year in the San Tan Valley area.

Over the past 15 years, Paladin Sports Outreach has made a profound impact in San Tan Valley, fostering community and youth development through sports. With a new goal set for Arizona, Paladin aims to replicate its successful model across the state, expanding its reach and nurturing the physical, emotional, and spiritual growth of thousands more children.

In line with its expansion efforts in Arizona, Paladin Sports Outreach announced the launch of its recreational sports programming in the Eastmark area of East Mesa. The initiative kicks off at Silver Valley Elementary on Saturday, February 3. This expansion represents Paladin's dedication to making affordable, quality, and Christ-centered sports accessible to all communities across Arizona. Blake Wilsford, Paladin's Director of Programs & Operations, emphasized the organization's commitment to working with local partners to enhance the availability and reach of its programs.

Beyond Arizona's borders, Paladin Sports Outreach is also pioneering a new chapter in Minnesota, marking a significant milestone in the organization's journey. Paladin Sports Minnesota, set to serve the northwest Minneapolis communities of Anoka, Ramsey, Andover, Coon Rapids, Champlin, Dayton, and Brooklyn Park, reflects Paladin's ambition to extend its mission nationwide. E.J. Lee, alongside her husband Matthew, has been appointed as Programs Manager for the Minnesota chapter. They will be instrumental in establishing and growing grassroots recreational sports programs in the region.

Paladin Sports Minnesota aims to offer a diverse range of recreational youth sports programs for children ages 3-8, including t-ball, baseball, girls softball, soccer, basketball, flag football, and floor hockey. This initiative is designed to provide young athletes with opportunities to engage in sports in a supportive, positive, and nurturing environment, fostering a love for physical activity and instilling core values aligned with Paladin's Christ-centered philosophy.

E.J. Lee expressed excitement about bringing Paladin's vision to Minnesota, emphasizing the organization's potential to impact local communities positively and offer a unique blend of sports and spiritual growth. As Paladin Sports Outreach continues to expand its footprint, its efforts in Arizona and Minnesota stand as testament to the organization's commitment to making a difference in the lives of children through sports.

There's a new push to incorporate San Tan Valley. What's changed since the last attempt

Voters may get a chance to decide in 2024 whether San Tan Valley, Pinal County's largest unincorporated community, will become a municipality.A group of San Tan Valley residents has formed a committee, STV Inc. 2024, to petition for the county area to incorporate, according to an April 12 notice of intent delivered to the Pinal County Board of Supervisors.During a Wednesday meeting, a member of the group told supervisors that organizers intend to speak with neighbors in the community and nearby cities to obtain feedback and dev...

Voters may get a chance to decide in 2024 whether San Tan Valley, Pinal County's largest unincorporated community, will become a municipality.

A group of San Tan Valley residents has formed a committee, STV Inc. 2024, to petition for the county area to incorporate, according to an April 12 notice of intent delivered to the Pinal County Board of Supervisors.

During a Wednesday meeting, a member of the group told supervisors that organizers intend to speak with neighbors in the community and nearby cities to obtain feedback and develop plans.

Tyler Hudgins, one of the residents behind the effort, said the boundaries of the proposed municipality remain undetermined. He said residents seek incorporation to secure localized control over tax dollars and address issues such as "water, transportation and development."

As an unincorporated area, San Tan Valley is dependent on county government and services, so the board currently determines how those problems are tackled. But the community has boomed as housing prices have soared in metro Phoenix, and residents and county officials have long expressed concerns that it's outgrown its roads, services and unincorporated status. It has a rapidly growing population of about 100,000, per the U.S. Census Bureau.

That entire San Tan Valley population may not be within the final boundaries of the incorporation bid. Still, it's likely that the community would become Pinal County's largest city if it were to incorporate. Currently, the city of Maricopa holds that title, with a population of about 60,000.

Two potential paths to incorporation

Hudgins stressed that the incorporation process is still in early stages, calling the committee "exploratory."

The group is currently arranging meetings with officials from Queen Creek, Florence, Mesa and Apache Junction, he said.

As the group meets with neighbors and stakeholders, Hudgins and other members will work to develop proposed boundaries, create a budget and plan out services for the potential municipality. Once a formal plan has been put together, the committee may seek incorporation via a county supervisors vote or by an election of San Tan Valley voters.

Incorporation by county supervisors would require committee organizers to produce signatures of two-thirds of the registered voters within the boundaries of the area. Incorporation via a direct election requires only 10% of registered voters to sign.

The group's notice of intent states that the committee will endeavor to place the initiative on the November 2024 ballot and "allow the community to determine the future of San Tan Valley."

In that case, the incorporators will need to submit their signatures to county supervisors, who will tally up the number of valid ones. If the group reaches the 10% threshold, the board will greenlight the election and voters within the boundaries of the proposed municipality will choose whether to incorporate.

A history of failed incorporation attempts

Previous incorporation efforts in San Tan Valley have crashed and burned before making it onto voters' ballots.

The most recent, in 2018, was hamstrung when the developer of Encanterra announced it would not give permission for that community to be included in the proposed municipality. At that time, state law dictated that the incorporation process required organizers to notify developers and homeowner associations individually. Any entity not notified could opt out of the proposed boundaries and potentially kill the incorporation effort.

That provision was changed last year, and now, incorporators must notify all parties by getting their efforts on a meeting agenda of the county Board of Supervisors six months in advance. Entities may still opt out, but they can no longer kill the incorporation effort.

Other bids to incorporate San Tan Valley faced opposition from nearby cities. State law previously allowed an existing city or town within six miles of a proposed incorporation to block it, a provision that was removed in 2017.

In the meantime, the unincorporated community's neighboring municipalities have annexed chunks of the area into their boundaries.

Sasha Hupka covers Maricopa County, Pinal County and regional issues for The Arizona Republic. Do you have thoughts on San Tan Valley incorporating? Reach her at sasha.hupka@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SashaHupka.

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