Water company alleges PRC violated state law

PRC counsel Russell Fisk says commission does not fall under act cited by AV Water

Hannah Grover
New Mexico Public Regulation Commissioners Lynda Lovejoy, center, and Valerie Espinoza, right, listen to complaints from AV Water Co. customers during a hearing on Oct. 12 at the San Juan County Administration Building in Aztec. The company is alleging the commission violated state law by assessing more than $2 million in fines against it.
  • AV Water owns two water systems in San Juan County that were issued boil-water advisories in June.
  • One system has had the boil-water advisory lifted, but the other advisory remains in place.
  • An attorney for AV Water says the company is committed to solving the water problems in Harvest Gold.

FARMINGTON — Facing more than $2 million in fines from the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, AV Water Co. is now alleging the commission violated state law.

In a supplemental filing for a motion for rehearing on fines, the company states that the PRC acted outside its jurisdiction and legal authority, and violated the company and its owners' rights under the New Mexico Administrative Procedures Act.

The company states that the proper steps were not taken prior to the fines being issued, including a trial-type hearing with witnesses and exhibits similar to a court proceeding.

"The commission is not permitted to impose sanctions, including any form of penalty, except within the jurisdiction delegated to it and authorized by law," the supplement states.

However, during a meeting today in Santa Fe that was streamed live on the PRC website, legal counsel Russell Fisk told the commissioners that the PRC does not fall under the state administrative procedures act. The PRC unanimously rejected AV Water's arguments. It previously denied the company's motion for rehearing on the fines.

"We're violating their rights? What about the rights of the people who still have unsafe drinking water?" Commissioner Valerie Espinoza said.

AV Water owns two water systems in San Juan County that were issued boil-water advisories in June. One of the two systems had its boil-water advisory lifted in September after the system, which serves the Crouch Mesa area, was connected to Farmington's water infrastructure. The other system serves the Harvest Gold subdivision east of Bloomfield. It remains on a boil-water advisory.

The company also has filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court in regard to the fines the PRC has levied against it and its owners. AV Water attorney Germaine Chappelle said owner Mark Iuppenlatz has hired an appellate attorney for the Supreme Court appeal. She said the supplement was filed upon advice from the appellate attorney as a way to preserve the appeal.

She emphasized that the company remains committed to solving the water problems in Harvest Gold. The company has said it will transfer the assets in Harvest Gold to a mutual domestic water users association. Residents have formed the Apple Orchard Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association in hopes of having the assets transferred and being able to access state funding for repairs. Those repairs include abandoning the current treatment facility and connecting to Bloomfield infrastructure.

"The goal is to have Harvest Gold up and running on their own mutual domestic and on city of Bloomfield water," she said.

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