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12:05 PM Sun, Dec. 09th

Wilhoit Water Co. appeals ADEQ's compliance order

CHINO VALLEY ­ The owner of a private water company that was delivering unsafe, arsenic-laden drinking water to its customers in Chino Valley has filed an appeal to the Arizona Attorney General's office in regard to a state agency's order requiring him to provide a clean product.

On Jan. 5, Robert Conlin, owner of Wilhoit Water Co.-Yavapai Estates, filed an appeal of a December order from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality calling for him to deliver bottled water to all of his customers affected by the arsenic scare, treat the wells' water, and offer a plan for compliance.

ADEQ director Steve Owens, who did not see the appeal's paperwork until Monday, said that the company has requested a settlement meeting with high-ranking department officials and Conlin's lawyer to talk about bringing the matter to an end with full compliance.

"That's a positive sign," Owens said. "The purpose of the meeting is to resolve the matter and avoid a long appeals process."

However, Owens added, Conlin has not set a definitive date for the informal meeting, and if he does not do so in the next two weeks, ADEQ likely will visit a judicial court and seek a temporary restraining order demanding Wilhoit Water Co. to comply with the department's order.

"We'll look at our options," Owens said.

Last week a Wilhoit Water Co. spokesperson told The Daily Courier that Conlin was in Wisconsin on business and was not available for comment. Conlin was not available by phone on Friday, either.

"We're in the process of scheduling the meeting, but Mr. Conlin is out of state and he needs to be present," Owens said. "Depending on his availability, we'll push to get that (meeting) set up very soon. We'll see what he has to say."

Under state administrative procedures, Owens said, Conlin had 30 days from the time ADEQ issued the order of compliance to submit the appeal, a process Conlin has followed.

In the meantime, ADEQ has requested that the Office of Administrative Hearings appoint an administrative law judge to handle the case if Conlin does not follow through with the settlement meeting.

In this formal legal proceeding, which takes place outside of a regular court of law, the administrative law judge would review the case and determine which side is in the right.

"We don't anticipate going through that," Owens said.

For Wilhoit to comply with the ADEQ ruling, it must provide safe drinking water to all of its customers here and develop a plan for treating its wells for arsenic.

"Proposals to serve safe drinking water are not wedded to any process or technology, but Wilhoit Water Co. has got to present a plan ­ a clear pathway to heed safe drinking water requirements," Owens said.

In late October ADEQ determined that Wilhoit Water Co. was issuing water from its wells that had arsenic levels of 316 parts per billion, which is 30 times higher than the federal government's standard of 10 parts per billion for drinking water.

On Dec. 5, ADEQ submitted a notice of violation to Wilhoit Water Co. for serving unsafe drinking water to at least 250 of its customers in Yavapai Estates and a portion of Antelope Valley Apartments.

Just last week, Wilhoit Water Co. agreed to deliver bottled water, upon request, to its Chino Valley customers affected by the arsenic contamination. Chino Valley Town Manager Bill Pupo said that the town is on standby and will take action to provide safe drinking water to those customers only if ADEQ directs it to do so.

Contact the reporter at dcook@prescottaz.com