EPCOR-City trial to start Jan. 24 (December 30, 2021)

KINGMAN — Jan. 24 has been set as the start date for a trial that will determine how much the City of Bullhead City must pay for the acquisition of EPCOR Water Arizona’s local system and assets.

The Bullhead City Attorney’s Office, City Manager’s Office and Mohave County Superior Court all confirmed that the trial will begin Jan. 24 before Judge Charles Gurtler in the Bullhead City Superior Court Annex, 2225 Trane Road.

The trial is expected to take up to two weeks.

At the end of the first week of February, we should have a price from the jury, Mark Clark, Bullhead City’s first utilities director, said.

Clark, who has an extensive background in water management, was part of the Bullhead City Council that called the Proposition 415 election in 2019 that authorized the city to take over the water system.

He resigned from the council earlier this year to become utilities director.

Jury selection already has begun, using a new online questionnaire.

Prospective jurors who received a questionnaire by mail may use the court’s online system to complete and submit the document.

Completed questionnaires will be sent to court personnel to determine qualified or disqualified jury candidates.

Summonses will be sent to qualified jurors, who then will be ordered to report for actual selection of the jury.

The process was developed to streamline jury selection.

Previously, all prospective jurors were required to report with the qualifying process — sometimes taking all day with pools of more than 100 people — held at the court.

With the online screening process, a fraction of prospective jurors will be required to report to the court.

Gurtler again is coming out of retirement to preside over the case.

He did so for the April bond hearing, eventually setting an $80 million bond for the city to pay EPCOR to operate the system until the jury trial determines the actual price of the transaction.

For lack of a better example, the bond is the security deposit the city must post in order to assume operation of the water system until a jury trial can be held on the actual compensation amount, said City Attorney Garn Emery after a three-day hearing before Gurtler in April.

The city is continuing its eminent domain proceedings to take possession of EPCOR’s Mohave and North Mohave water systems; the jury will be charged with setting the final sale price.

The city and EPCOR differ widely on the value of the system with the city offering $55 million and EPCOR, which maintained all along that its local assets were not for sale, placing the value at a little more than $136 million.

If a jury decides the value is more than $80 million, the city will have to come up with the difference. If the jury determines the value to be less than $80 million, EPCOR will have to return the difference to the city.

Bullhead City voters in 2019 passed Proposition 415, authorizing the city to issue up to $130 million to acquire the water system. After Gurtler’s bond amount ruling in July, the City Council authorized bond sales of $90 million with the additional $10 million covering legal fees, start-up expenses, purchase of needed equipment to operate the system and funding for a water system masterplan.

The city took over operation of the water system on Sept. 1.

Proposition 415 was a product of frustration by city officials — and residents — that EPCOR had raised local water rates by an average of 90% since taking over the system in 2012 from Arizona-American Water Co.


Source: Mohave Daily News