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After house fire, Cave Creek west-side residents still without water services considering lawsuit

8/10/16

Tara Alatorre
Staff

CAVE CREEK – Residents living on the west-side of Cave Creek drew a line in the sand at the town council meeting on Aug. 1, demanding municipal water services that would provide long-awaited running water to their homes by Sept. 30, or they would file a lawsuit against the town.

Emotions ran high as about a dozen west-side residents took to the podium, expressing anger, fear and frustration about having no water in their residences, or fire hydrants. Citizens were visibly shaken as they recounted a recent house fire on the 2700 block of Ridgecrest Road, and claimed that the Rural/Metro Fire Department arrived to the scene 40 minutes after calling 911, and then hooked up their hoses to waterless hydrants as the fire blazed. 

“I lost pretty much everything, and my cat,” said Bobby Darzes, through tears, as she described the trauma of losing her home to the fire last week. “It’s been really hard, something has to change, this isn’t going to work….can we get water please!”

One by one, west-side residents stepped up the podium in solidarity, testifying about the safety concerns the water issue raises for all of Cave Creek, not just their neighborhood. Rick McDougal, a resident of the west-side for 12 years, said this is the third house he has watched burn in the neighborhood. 

I saw flames shooting up, there were four fire trucks on the street but there was no water, we just waited for the water trucks to arrive, McDougal recounted.

 “That scared the hell out of me that night, and I am scared now,” he said to the town council. “I just want to amplify this, I am afraid for my family, I am afraid for residents, and I just really urge you to do something.”

The west-side of town has always been without municipal water services due to a lack of infrastructure, and residents either haul their own water, or dig wells on their property, which can be costly. However, residents were told they would finally get town water with the approval of the Cahava Springs special tax district that formed in June 2015.

The district issues bonds to its homeowners on the 230-lot subdivision that is based on home value and is paid yearly, which funds major town infrastructure projects, according to the public hearing on June 15, 2015.

Some of the infrastructure projects highlighted during the approval and hearing of the Cahava Springs District last June included:  improving a portion of the existing waterline south of Joy Ranch Road, the activation of the existing waterline on 26th Street north of Joy Ranch Road, the extension of the water line to 32nd Street and Honda Bow Road, and the installation of booster pumps and storage tanks necessary to deliver water to the west-side.

Terry Smith is a longtime advocate of water infrastructure improvements for the west-side, and owns the home that caught fire on Ridgecrest Road; he says the west-side of town isn’t likely to see water anytime soon.

We are being treated like an “ugly stepchild,” because the town refuses to put any money towards water infrastructure, despite all the development fees we have paid Cave Creek, Smith said. The waterline has been available for the town to take over for years, but a 300-foot section needs to be replaced with a larger 8-inch pipe, which is costly, he said at the meeting.

“We have had three fires in our neighborhood since fire hydrants were installed,” he said.  “It’s a tremendous health and safety issue.”

According to Rural Metro Fire Department spokesman Shawn Gilleland, it took firefighters 20 minutes from dispatch to arrive on scene at 12:11 p.m., on July 27, and he claims they did not try to connect to hydrants because they were aware hydrants were not in service.

“We prepare for these types of conditions, because many of our service areas are located outside of city infrastructure such as hydrants,” he said. “In these cases we transition to a tanker operation.”

The destruction was limited to the bathroom and collateral water damage. Darzes’ cat unfortunately died on the scene from smoke inhalation even after crews’ efforts to revive it, said Gilleland.

“With the assistance of Daisy Mountain and Phoenix Fire we were able to quickly contain and suppress the fire,” Gilleland said.

However, it isn’t just safety concerns that led to such high-tensions, ultimately leading to a potential lawsuit against the town of Cave Creek. Residents say the burdens of expensive water deliveries, maintaining water tank levels, dried up wells, and empty promises caused them to take action.

“It’s scary when you go to turn on your faucet and there is not water because the truck hasn’t been out yet,” said Tamara Smith, another west-side resident who spoke at the meeting. “We are waiting, and we are tired of waiting.”

Mayor Vincent Francia responded at the Aug. 1 meeting by moving a special council meeting regarding water issues to Aug. 22, instead of the later September date, so the council could hash out a plan. 

“We are going to spend the money,” said Francia after the west-side residents finished speaking to the town council, who remained silent during the call to public. “I don’t want to wait until September.”

About 15 west-side residents believe they have enough evidence to claim punitive damages if the Cave Creek Town Council does not take action at the Aug. 22 meeting, and deliver water as promised.

“We have two law firms that are chomping at the bit,” said Terry Smith. “If we do not have water on the west-side of town by September 30, we will enact a lawsuit against the town and we are going to pursue it.”