PRC approves hearing for AV Water Co.

Hannah Grover

FARMINGTON — A hearing next month will help the Public Regulation Commission determine whether penalties might be assessed against the AV Water Co.

The AV Water Co. could face penalties at an October Public Regulation Commission hearing in Santa Fe because of the company's inability to provide some customers with potable water.

Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of holding an October hearing to determine possible penalties for the company, including fines and customer refunds. The hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 12 in Santa Fe.

AV Water Co. customers in the Morningstar and Harvest Gold systems were issued a boil-water advisory in June. The Morningstar system had its advisory lifted earlier this month, but the Harvest Gold residents remain under a boil-water advisory.

AV Water Co. attorney Germaine Chappelle said the company is working hard to get service restored to the Harvest Gold residents and has delivered bottled water to the subdivision. She said a new filter may help the system reach compliance with state standards.

The ruling came one week after a similar motion failed at a PRC meeting. Four AV Water Co. customers attended the meeting today in Santa Fe and addressed commissioners during the meeting.

Chappelle expressed concern that preparing for the hearing could divert company resources.

"I certainly have no objection to a hearing. It's just timing," she said.

An alternative order proposed scheduling the hearing for a time after potable water has been restored to Harvest Gold residents.

The order to move forward with a hearing means customers will now have the opportunity to become a party and provide testimony in the hearing. Commissioner Sandy Jones cautioned customers who choose to provide testimony in October's hearing to be careful about communicating with commissioners. PRC attorney Russell Fisk said people who decide to become a party in the case cannot communicate with the commissioners while the case is open.

Kalee Chivers Grothe, a customer who has organized the Animas Valley Water Protesters group, said she plans on becoming a party in the October hearing.

"We have tons of information that they need to see," she said.

Commissioner Karen Montoya said fines may be needed as leverage to get the company to reach compliance.

"They either spend the money on fixing the system or they spend the money on fines," she said.

Jones brought up the possibility that timelines could be established for the company to meet and that fines could be waived if AV Water Co. corrects issues in the system. He cautioned against high fines that could cause the company to "walk away."

"Somebody's going to have to provide some water there, and it ain't going to happen without an operator," Jones said.

He said it is unacceptable for the residents of Harvest Gold to still be under a boil-water advisory.

When reached by phone, Harvest Gold resident Robin Stephens said the boil-water advisory has left him frustrated. In June, he received a text message from his daughter alerting him to the advisory in his subdivision. Shortly after the advisory was issued, Stephens and his wife went to Texas for three weeks.

"We honestly expected that they would have everything taken care of by the time we got back from Texas," he said.

When they returned, the advisory was still in effect. Last week, Stephens discovered what looked "almost like black sand" in the bottom of his shower.

He also recalled a day when he turned on the water and smelled a foul odor coming from the tap. He said it did not smell like sewage, but smelled like something rotting.

"I just want to turn on the faucet and get a glass of water," Stephens said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.