Bullhead City manager asks EPCOR principals in Canada to reach out

BULLHEAD CITY — This wasn’t the first time City Manager Toby Cotter made a public plea to EPCOR Water during a Bullhead City Council meeting.

His message to the utility provider at the meeting on Tuesday night about the legal wrangling over the city’s takeover of EPCOR’s local assets and infrastructure was less emotional and more measured than during past reports to the council and community members. But that also remained as clear as it has been since the city began exploring acquisition of the utility company’s local water assets and running the system itself.

“Call my office,” Cotter said after stating that he believed someone — or several someones — associated with EPCOR most likely were watching the meeting as it was being streamed live.

“Accept our offer of $55 million and let’s move forward with the city owning and operating this water system,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be this complicated.”

Cotter further addressed EPCOR principals and focused in on the ones based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The utility is based there and has separate United States operations in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

He also wanted to provide an update to local community members.

“The City of Edmonton is spending hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees,” he said. “With EPCOR USA, their legal bills are mounting to some huge degree that I’m certain their city is unaware of.”

The condemnation case that places a dollar amount on those assets is scheduled to begin in Mohave County Superior Court on Feb. 22.

Cotter’s request was made after another of many executive sessions for city council members to hear about the condemnation process as well as other EPCOR-related actions now before the Arizona Corporation Commission.

In November of 2019, Bullhead City voters approved a proposal for city government to exercise its eminent domain right to acquire the utility from EPCOR. The city sought voter approval for a takeover after EPCOR had raised water rates multiple times.

Less than a decade after EPCOR acquired the community’s water infrastructure and assets from Arizona-American Water Company, local water rates have nearly doubled. And EPCOR has proposed another set of rate increases for its local customers.

Cotter also provided additional information to the community.

“I know a lot of residents are wondering when that name change is going to take place and when is the city going to start running our water company,” he said. “We hope all that happens sometime in the spring.”

After the Daily News reached out to Phoenix-based representative of EPCOR Water Arizona, Rebecca Stenholm, director of public and government affairs of EPCOR USA, provided a written response to Cotter and other city officials:

“We do not comment on pending litigation. That said, we have been clear from the beginning — we’re not interested in selling and that, if forced to do so, we would fight for fair and just compensation.

“We have shared that position with Bullhead City leaders many times since April 2018 and continue to do so. It is unfortunate the city has brought us both to this point and is continuing down the path of eminent domain. But we must protect our business and our people and remain highly concerned the city is pursuing a problem that doesn’t exist at the cost of its own residents,” Stenholm stated.

EPCOR has said the system is worth $135 million — nearly 2½ times more than what the city contends is its value. If the city and EPCOR can’t reach an agreement about price, then that process will occur in court.

The Edmonton City Council is the lone shareholder in EPCOR and “it’s time for the shareholder to call this truce and accept our offer,” Cotter said.

Source: Terri Harber, Mohave Valley Daily News