Sanitary District closes escrow on land

The taxpayers of the Camp Verde Sanitary District are now the official owners of 161 acres of property.

The district closed escrow on the $1.1 million purchase of Forest Service property on Thursday. The 161 acres includes the 71 acres on which the district has its current wastewater treatment facility plus an additional 90 acres for the planned expansion.

"This should be all the land the district needs for the next 30 to 40 years," District Chairman Suzy Burnside said.

Burnside considers the purchase of the land to be a key ingredient to finishing the long promised sanitary district expansion.

It is now up to the voters to approve the district's $4.5 million bond in the May 17 General Election.

The district board has been trying to purchase the property since December 1999 when it signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Forest Service.

The road from the memorandum to the close of escrow has been difficult and fraught with delay.

Much of the delay over the ensuing years has been the result of the state's forest fires. The project was set aside several times as resources were diverted to the fires.

The delays resulting from the fires were minimal compared to some the project's other difficulties.

The district spent the first year getting archaeological, HAZMAT, mineral, flood plain, wetlands, and biological clearances on the property.

After those preliminary studies were completed, and after a Forest Service survey and preliminary engineering for the facility were finished, the district released the proposal for public comment.

During public comment, many adjacent landowners voiced concerns about the layout of the facility.

The district was then forced to reposition, reengineer, and establish wider setbacks.

After those hurdles were cleared in 2002, the district had to go before the voters for approval to transfer a previously approved $600,000 loan from the Water Infrastructure Authority (WIFA). The voters had previously designated the money for the expansion of the collection system.

The voters approved the use of the funds to purchase property in May of 2003.

When the final $1.1 million appraisal on the property came out in November of 2003, the district found itself $500,000 short.

The district had planned to make up the difference with the reimbursement of funds from septage fees that had been previously spent on engineering and attorney fees.

When bids for the new facility were opened in September of 2004 they were higher than expected. The district then found it was unable to get reimbursed, since reimbursement was predicated on building the treatment facility.

In November of 2004, the Town of Camp Verde stepped in and offered to lend the district the $500,000 to complete the sale. That effort, however, became a train wreck as the town and the district were unable to come up with a suitable intergovernmental agreement (IGA).

On Christmas Eve 2004, the district realized it was at an impasse in the talks with the town and decided to go to a private lender that had expressed an interest in loaning the money.

The district came to terms with National Bank of Arizona this last month, and the U.S. Forest Service managed to move the paperwork through its system to beat last Thursday's deadline.

"A lot of people have worked very hard to make this happen," Burnside said. "In particular Judy Adams and Pete Mortinson with the Forest Service. The Forest Service does not normally move quickly, but those two really made sure that all of the documents were there on Thursday. And we really appreciate it.

"The district also owes a debt of gratitude the efforts of the Camp Verde branch manager of National Bank of Arizona, Sherry Costello and to the bank's public finance officer Lee Davis," Burnside said. "This was the bank's first ever financing of a waster water project, and the two did a lot to make it happen."

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