AG's Office being asked to begin process of collecting fines and to prevent troubled company from violating commission rules

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FARMINGTON — An alleged lack of responsiveness to its orders has led the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to draft a letter to the state Attorney General's Office about the AV Water Co.

The letter asks the AG's Office to "commence an action" to stop or prevent AV Water from violating the Public Utility Act, as well as commission rules and orders.

This is not the first time such a letter has been drafted. In December, the PRC drafted a letter but did not send it. The current letter also asks for the AG to start the process of collecting fines assessed against AV Water.

The PRC has issued about a dozen orders related to the company since last summer. They include requirements to deliver bottled water and to post notices on customers' doors about a hearing. The company has appealed a November order to the New Mexico Supreme Court and requested a rehearing for recent fines.

"This has been a difficult situation and a difficult case," AV Water attorney Germaine Chappelle said.

She said some of the orders, such as the door notices, could not be complied with because of time constraints.

"I think to say that AV refused to comply with their orders is a little far," she said.

Meanwhile, some customers continue to complain about their service. A 78-year-old Crouch Mesa resident said she went nearly a year without water after she was unable to pay her bill.

Irene Gallegos said she tried to work out payment details for the $475 she owed the company. She eventually received financial assistance from the San Juan United Way to pay her debt.

Chappelle said she personally met with Gallegos about a payment plan. On Feb. 16, Gallegos had her water service restored.

That was not the first time Gallegos had had her water shut off, but it was the longest period, and she said she received no warning. She said her struggle to pay her bills intensified a couple of years ago when her son became unemployed.

"After the rigs went down, he didn't have a job," she explained.

Another complaint she registered is the amount of her bills. One bill shows more than $200 in current charges for the two mobile homes attached to her meter in addition to more than $1,200 that was past due.

"Once you get these big bills, you don't ever recover," said Kalee Chivers Grothe, who went with Gallegos to pay the bill.

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

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