AV Water Co. hearing moved to San Juan County

Hannah Grover
AV Water, as seen Friday July 22, 2016, at 31 County Road 3900.

FARMINGTON — The Oct. 12 Public Regulation Commission hearing for AV Water Co. has been moved to Farmington.

New Mexico Public Regulation Commission unanimously approved the change in venue this morning during a meeting in Santa Fe. The public hearing here will help the PRC determine fines and customer refunds related to AV Water's service in San Juan County. The PRC also expanded the scope of the hearing to include testimony about finding a new operator.

The change in venue came after AV Water requested that the hearing be postponed because a witness was having health issues. During a phone interview this afternoon, AV Water Co. attorney Germain Chappelle told The Daily Times it is important for the witness, AV Water Operations Manager Thomas Barrow, to be at the hearing because "he actually has first hand knowledge of what's been done."

Barrow will have back surgery on Oct. 11 and will not be able to attend the hearing the next day.

Chappelle said AV Water is also looking for other operators that could come in and run the system.

Commission counsel Russell Fisk advised the PRC that AV Water Co. did not send out public notices or publish a notice in the newspaper about the hearing. He recommended postponing the hearing so the public could be notified.

Commissioners expressed frustration about the lack of public notice.

“Obviously, we’ve ordered them to do something, they didn’t do it and now we’re stuck here,” said Commissioner Karen Montoya.

Chappelle told The Daily Times it was her fault the notices were not mailed out.

"There was no intention to not get that done," she said. "I just think I am spread a little too thin."

Commissioner Sandy Jones recommended ordering AV Water to hang notices on each customer's door about the public hearing and to move the hearing to Farmington. And despite the request for a delay, commissioners unanimously agreed to proceed with the Oct. 12 hearing.

“I’m really frustrated with what’s going on,” Jones said.

He said he has heard more than half a dozen water company cases and “the longer we delayed it, the worse it got.”

He said the PRC could have another public hearing at a later date if there is not enough information available during the Oct. 12 meeting.

“The important thing is that we start getting things on record,” he said.

Oct. 12 is a regular PRC meetings, so commissioners simply moved it to Farmington.

Customers in the two systems operated by AV Water faced boil-water advisories this summer. The New Mexico Environment Department issued boil-water advisories on June 3 for both systems.

The advisory for the Morningstar system, which serves Crouch Mesa, was lifted Sept. 1.

The advisory is still in effect for the Harvest Gold system. That system serves a subdivision east of Bloomfield.

Kalee Chivers Grothe, an organizer of the Animas Valley Water Protesters group, said she was ecstatic when she heard that the hearing would be moved to Farmington.

"This is what we wanted," Chivers Grothe said. "This is what we needed."

She said the group will work to make sure the customers are informed about the hearing.

"We are going to start posting notices on people's doors," she said.

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

AV Water Co. timeline

May 25: AV Water Co. issued a boil water advisory to customers on the Morningstar system, which serves Crouch Mesa.

June 1: The boil water advisory was lifted for Crouch Mesa residents

June 2: The New Mexico Environment Department conducted site inspections of the Morningstar and Harvest Gold drinking water systems. NMED identified 29 significant deficiencies on the Morningstar system and 21 significant deficiencies on the Harvest Gold system.

June 3: NMED issued boil water advisories for AV Water Co. customers in the Morningstar and Harvest Gold systems.

June 16: San Juan County issued an emergency declaration on behalf of the Morningstar and Harvest Gold water systems.

June 17: NMED issued an emergency order pressuring AV Water Co. to complete an interconnection with the city of Farmington. The interconnection would provide clean drinking water to Crouch Mesa residents and allow AV Water Co. to close its Morningstar water treatment plant.

June 18: Crouch Mesa residents in several subdivisions were without water due to a large-scale water outage.

June 21: Farmington City Council approved a long-term contract to supply water to the Morningstar system.

July 22: AV Water Co. completed its interconnection to the city of Farmington’s water system.

Aug. 1: NMED issued a notice of violation to AV Water Co. for failing to submit a corrective action plan for the Harvest Gold system. AV Water Co. began flushing pipes in Crouch Mesa.

Sept. 1: The boil water advisory was lifted for Crouch Mesa residents but remained in place for customers on the Harvest Gold system.

Sept. 14: The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission approved a public hearing for Oct. 12. 

Sept. 23: NMED issued an emergency order and announced fines for AV Water Co.'s Harvest Gold system. The emergency order states the company must connect Harvest Gold with the city of Bloomfield's water system.