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Camp Verde Sanitary District plant operator Rick Spears was arrested Dec. 22 on felony charges of forgery, fraudulent schemes and taking the identity of another.

Now he wants the court to decide if there is probable cause to justify those charges.

The charges stem from the allegation that Spears forged his Arizona Department of Environmental Quality credentials as a wastewater water collections system operator using documents he found on the Internet.

Spears had previously held that certification, but his license had lapsed. He admitted as much and told the sanitary district board that he would take responsibility for his actions.

Spears resigned from the town’s payroll and was almost immediately rehired by the sanitary district, which had been reimbursing the town for employee salaries. Camp Verde Marshal Dave Smith said at the time he would not be seeking criminal charges.

That changed when a warrant for Spears’ arrest was issued Dec. 22; Spears turned himself in that afternoon. He was interviewed by detectives with the Camp Verde Marshal’s Office and released the next day on his own recognizance.

Spears, 39, and his attorney, public defender Matthew Springer, stood in Yavapai County Superior Court Thursday, Dec. 27, to request a preliminary hearing.

His fellow employees at the sanitary district, along with district board Chairman Rob Witt, sat with Spears in the courtroom to show their support.

Judge Warren Darrow scheduled the hearing for Thursday, Jan. 10, to review the evidence and determine how the state will proceed.

In the meantime, Spears is still on the job and Witt said he continues to stand behind the district’s employees.

Witt characterized the criminal proceedings against Spears as “harassment” by the town.

“Whatever [Spears] did or didn’t do, he and the other employees are getting the job done,” Witt said.

Witt also questioned the motives behind Spears’ arrest, accusing the town of using it to deflect attention away from its own problems.

Witt said the town was in breech of nearly every part of its agreement with the district, one signed in May to help provide funding for the new wastewater treatment plant in preparation for an eventual town takeover of the sewer system pending the results of the November 2008 election.
That agreement called for monthly payment from the town, payments of which Witt said the district hasn’t seen one dime.

The town, concerned with the nuts and bolts of the agreement, has been working with the district in an attempt to rollback the document and essentially start over from square one.

Spears said he was also surprised by the arrest because it was his understanding that certification matters are usually handled internally by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

ADEQ was already conducting its own investigation into Spears’ falsified credentials, spokesman Mark Shaffer said, and it was unclear what effect Spears’ arrest would have on those proceedings.

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The Camp Verde Sanitary District Board is investigating a former board chairwoman, alleging she might have misused public money.

The board decided in a meeting, Nov. 14, to ask its attorneys to investigate Suzy Burnside, a previous chairwoman and board member of the sewer district for the past eight years.

Current Board Chairman Rob Witt, who took over in January, said that the previous board had spent $1.4 million on the expansion of the district’s sewer service, apparently without properly recording the funds in its budget reports.

Witt said Burnside was being singled out because she was the leader of the previous board, and the other members were just falling in line behind her.
“There was no accountability,” Witt said. “That’s a lot of money …. If she misused the money she needs to pay it back.”

The former board members and attorneys were “absolutely honorable people,” Burnside said.

She told the sanitary district board that if it feels there was a misuse of public funds, then it has an obligation to investigate the matter.

The sanitary district is paying its attorneys, the Ledbetter Law Firm, to investigate the matter, Witt said.

Burnside, while acknowledging the board’s obligation to investigate suspected wrongdoing, said she feels the sanitary board should use the state’s investigatory arm instead of spending additional tax money on a private law firm.

Witt said he just wants to make sure that people are held accountable in the case public funds were abused.

Mark Lineberger can be reached at 567-3341, or e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Camp Verde Sanitary District had a turbulent week that saw two board mem-bers call it quits and all of their employees turn in their resignations to the Town of Camp Verde.

Recently, the sanitary district has come under increasing criticism from unhappy members of the public who feel they’re paying more and more for a service they don’t receive.

On top of that, the district’s leadership has been questioned by the Camp Verde Town Council about their operations and hiring practices. The Town Council is planning to take over as the district board pending the results of the November 2008 election. It has also pledged more than $2 million to help build a new sewer plant.

While the town and sanitary district have made progress in recent weeks with open communication and reaffirmation of the town’s political and financial commitments to the district, two sanitary board members want out.

Board members Roy Gugliotta and Al Dupuy turned in their letters of resignation last week. Gugliotta’s resignation was accepted Nov. 14; the board has yet to officially accept Dupuy’s.

Dupuy said his resignation is still up in the air.

“I’m really still on the board until they accept my resignation,” Dupuy said. He also said he’ll sit on the board until a replacement can be found. That might take awhile, Dupuy acknowledged, because he doesn’t expect district residents to be eagerly lining up for the job.

“It’s gotten ugly,” Dupuy said.

Sewer District Chairman Rob Witt said that Gugliotta had been an extremely capable board member, and the search for a replacement would go on until they could find someone equally as qualified and as dedicated to the people of the district.

Gugliotta said he has his reasons for resigning, but doesn’t want to discuss them publicly.

While the sanitary district’s leadership is going through a shake up, their paid employees are having problems of their own. They also still have jobs, but someone else is signing their paycheck.

As part of the takeover agreement between the town and the district, district employees were technically on the town’s payroll so that a trained and competent staff would already be in place when the Town Council eventually takes the reins.

In recent months the Council expressed concern about how the employees were hired.

The situation started to unravel with Marshall Davis, a sanitary worker who was fired two weeks ago after an undisclosed problem with a background check.

Then, the sewer district chief operator, Rick Spears, resigned after admitting to Camp Verde Human Resources Director Dave Smith and Town Engineer Ron Long that he had falsified some of his credentials from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

Spears presented documents that alleged his certification in wastewater collections was up to date with ADEQ when in fact, his certification had lapsed.

Spears later apologized to the sewer board in a letter Nov. 14, and said he was working on getting his certifications current.

“I am sorry for the turmoil I have caused the district,” Spears wrote. “We are working on getting it sorted out. I do take full responsibility for my actions and will bare all the consequences it may cause. Lesson learned, I will be very careful about all documentation and information I gather and present.”

Smith has said that Spears will not be rehired on the town’s payroll.
Davis’ firing and Spears’ resignation were the last straws for the other district employees. Tracey Feltes, George Siler and interim sewer plant operator Jan Grogan turned in their letters of resignation Nov. 13, citing the stress of uncertainty and political controversy.

“I do not like the way Rick Spears and Marshall Davis were treated,” Feltes wrote. “I hate not knowing if I have a job from day to day. I choose not to work under these conditions.”

Siler wrote that he was resigning “due to the political unrest and using of employees as political pawns.”

Grogan also cited the treatment of Spears and Davis, writing that she felt their treatment was “unacceptable and unethical.”

“It has left an atmosphere of fear and mistrust amongst the remaining employees,” Grogan wrote. “I choose not to work under these conditions.”
The employees’ lack of jobs didn’t last long. Witt rehired them all on a temporary basis, although this time it was on the district’s payroll.

“We can’t run a sewer district without employees,” Witt said. “Especially when you have a plant taking in 200,000 gallons a day.”

The next scheduled meeting of the sanitary district is Wednesday, Dec. 12, at 1 p.m.

The Camp Verde Sanitary District Board is investigating a former board chairwoman, alleging she might have misused public money.

The board decided in a meeting, Nov. 14, to ask its attorneys to investigate Suzy Burnside, a previous chairwoman and board member of the sewer district for the past eight years.

Current Board Chairman Rob Witt, who took over in January, said that the previous board had spent $1.4 million on the expansion of the district’s sewer service, apparently without properly recording the funds in its budget reports.

Witt said Burnside was being singled out because she was the leader of the previous board, and the other members were just falling in line behind her.
“There was no accountability,” Witt said. “That’s a lot of money …. If she misused the money she needs to pay it back.”

The former board members and attorneys were “absolutely honorable people,” Burnside said.

She told the sanitary district board that if it feels there was a misuse of public funds, then it has an obligation to investigate the matter.

The sanitary district is paying its attorneys, the Ledbetter Law Firm, to investigate the matter, Witt said.

Burnside, while acknowledging the board’s obligation to investigate suspected wrongdoing, said she feels the sanitary board should use the state’s investigatory arm instead of spending additional tax money on a private law firm.

Witt said he just wants to make sure that people are held accountable in the case public funds were abused.

Mark Lineberger can be reached at 567-3341, or e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Fossil Creek may soon be protected by law, thanks to a bill being fast-tracked through the U.S. Senate by Sen. John McCain [R-Ariz.].

The legislation would call for the unique springs and streams of the creek, 14 miles east of Camp Verde, to be designated a Wild and Scenic River, a federally-protected status that would keep the creek’s waters flowing for future generations.

The latest push for federal protection comes on the heels of Camp Verde Mayor Tony Gioia’s recent trip to Washington, D.C., where he met with McCain and other lawmakers to lobby for the protection of critical water resources in the Verde Valley.

“This is something we’ve all worked hard to achieve,” Gioia said.
It’s not the first time politicians have tried to use the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to protect Fossil Creek.

A similar bill introduced in Congress last year by McCain and U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi [R-Ariz.] failed to make its way through the crowded maze of red tape on Capitol Hill.

“We can only hope it happens this time,” said Jason Williams, regional director with the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. “Fossil Creek has several outstanding and remarkable values that need to be protected. Just for the native fishery alone, it’s worth it.”

The creek is home to several native species of fish, including speckled dace and chub. Efforts have been ongoing to protect the native fish from non-native species that have been out-competing them for food and space, according to the National Forest Service.

The creek is one of the few waterways in Arizona with year-round flows.
Williams said that federal protection of the creek effectively means “no one can stick a straw in [the creek] and suck the water out.”

That’s important not only for people who enjoy the outdoors and want to use the creek for years to come, Williams said, but also for the local Yavapai and Apache who consider Fossil Creek a sacred site.

For a century, man had subverted the creek to create electricity. Most of its water was diverted to the Childs-Irving Hydroelectric power plant until Arizona Public Service pulled the plug on the facility in 2005.

The creek, noted for its year-round 70-degree water and travertine pools, would be only the second Wild and Scenic River in Arizona.

Part of the upper Verde River was given that designation in 1984. Getting the rest of the river protected is the next obstacle to overcome for water advocates, Gioia said.

“We have to take these one at a time,” Gioia said, citing the nature of politics. “Once we’ve taken care of Fossil Creek, we can look at the Verde River.”

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act protects 11,000 miles of 165 rivers in 38 states and Puerto Rico. According to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, that’s about one-quarter of 1 percent of the nation’s rivers.

Mark Lineberger can be reached at 567-3341, or e-mail to
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The Camp Verde Unified School District has purchased 75 acres of land in the Coconino National Forest to set aside for new schools when the need arises. The price: $750.

No, the school district doesn’t have a time machine. The U.S. Forest Service sold the land under a 2000 law called the Forest Service Educational Land Grants Act.

“It’s a very good deal,” said CVUSD Superintendent Jeff Van Handel, Ph.D. “The intent is to eventually build a second K-12 campus.”
The new site would eventually house 1,650 additional students, according to the school district.

Van Handel said that the district spent an additional $50,000 on environmental studies at the site, but that price is minute compared to the estimated $2.25 million the land would have cost on the open market.
Van Handel said that based on enrollment projections and predicted housing market performance, the district could be eligible to build a new campus in 2011.

The 75 acres at Quarterhorse Lane and South Verde Park Drive are adjacent to land being considered for a new park by the Town of Camp Verde, a fact that appealed to the Forest Service when officials were reviewing the school district’s grant application, said Judy Adams, with the Land Staff of the Coconino National Forest’s Red Rock Ranger District.

While the park project may be temporarily stalled, the school district is still going ahead with the purchase.

Even though the land is owned by the Forest Service, Adams said the character of the land was more “community than wildland.”

The law recognizes that in some places in Arizona it’s difficult and prohibitively expensive for school boards to obtain new land.

“This creates a relatively streamlined process for schools to use forest land where it’s available,” Adams said.

Of course, there is a catch. The land can only be used for public school buildings, and if the district ever stops using the land for schools, ownership reverts back to the forest service.

The school district applied for the land grant in 2004 under the direction of former CVUSD Superintendent Ron Maughan. The district is also seeking a grant for an additional 20 acres adjacent to the current campus on Camp Lincoln Road, Adams said.

Under the law, the forest service can transfer no more than 80 acres at one site.

A ceremony at the site is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 5

A sewer leak into the Verde River that left some residents holding their noses last week poses no health risk after being contained, according to initial test results from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.
In fact, water samples show there is more bacteria in the river upstream from the spill site at White Bridge along Hwy. 260, though river water in both locations is still within acceptable levels for the state.

It’s hard to say the exact reason for the higher bacteria levels upstream, said ADEQ spokesman Mark Shaffer, who noted bacteria levels were extremely variable at several points along the river.

Camp Verde Sanitary District Plant Manager Rick Spears estimated anywhere from 480 to 720 gallons of raw sewage was spilled into the river based on his observations.

But it’s not yet certain exactly how much sewage spilled into the river as a result of the leak, Shaffer said, because it’s unclear exactly how long the spill went undiscovered.

The ruptured pipe, more than 20 years old, is right near a brand new and larger pipe designed as a replacement that hadn’t yet been brought online.
“This was just a very, very difficult situation,” Shaffer said.
A Smelly Situation

A couple walking along the river near the bridge the evening of Sept. 4 saw the leak and reported it to CVSD, Spears said.

Spears arrived early Tuesday to find raw sewage cascading from a pipe under the bridge and realized emergency measures were needed to stop the leak from further contaminating the river while the 8-inch steel pipe could be repaired.

A temporary earthen dam was put up to try and stem the flow of sewage into the river, Spears said.

More calls came in the next morning when people showed up to work at nearby businesses to find sewage bubbling out through manholes.

Pump trucks from local sewage collection companies were called in first thing to help try and relieve the pressure and prevent even more sewage from escaping.

“It was disgusting,” said Monty Montoya, who lives by the river and works at All Classic Auto, the closest business to the spill. “We’ve been smelling this for weeks and you could just see it oozing out.”

Curt Nauer, who works at Robinson’s Equipment next door, had also put up with the smell for weeks. But by Tuesday, he couldn’t put up with it anymore.

“This is the worst it’s been,” Nauer said. “Something needs to be done.”
Spears said he had received complaints about the smell the previous week, but figured it was from a biofilter due for changing at the nearby pump station.

“I didn’t hear anymore complaints after changing the filter until the leak was called in,” Spears said.

The Cleanup

By Tuesday afternoon, CVSD notified ADEQ as required by contract and biologists were dispatched to the site from Phoenix and Flagstaff, Shaffer said. In the meantime, a nearby pump station was shut down to help advance the repair effort.

The district also called Camp Verde Public Works Department to lend a hand. Town Engineer Ron Long said his department helped shore up the dam and dug a collection pool to prevent overflow into the river. The town also brought out a cherry picker truck to help stop the leak.

“We’re just out here to lend a helping hand,” said Long, as men covered in sewage worked to clamp off the pipe from underneath the bridge. The flow was stopped later that afternoon, but that was just the beginning of the cleanup effort, and many more government agencies would become involved over the course of the week.

Contaminated soil was trucked out while new dirt and chemicals were laid down to help cleanup the polluted riverbed, Shaffer said.

ADEQ biologists took water samples as far down river as Horseshoe Creek to check for potentially dangerous levels of bacteria.

“What we fear the most is e.coli and coliform bacteria,” Shaffer said, “But our initial test results show that the spill caused a minimal impact.”

Still, Shaffer said that anyone who feels ill after exposure to the river could seek medical attention.

Because the rupture was on a roadway, the Arizona Department of Transportation was called in. ADOT in turn notified the Salt River Project, since the Verde River eventually joins the Salt River at its mouth.

SRP spokesman Jeff Lane said water treatment plants in the Phoenix Metro area were put on alert, but no problems were expected.

“It’s considered to be a minor spill, so the any contamination is likely to be diluted long before,” Lane said.

The U.S. Forest Service was also notified and signs warning visitors were posted along the river from White Bridge to Beasley Flats, Verde District Ranger Dee Hines said.

The signs will stay up until ADEQ makes a final verification that the water is safe, Hines said.

By the end of the week, Spears said he talked with not only ADEQ, ADOT and the USFS, but also the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.

“We had to make sure everyone was notified,” Spears said.

CVSD attorney Jim Ledbetter said that the spill was a tragedy, and that the district will work with ADEQ until an investigation is complete.
He also said the district will call a special meeting in the near future to discuss and review the causes of the leak.

The Investigation Continues

While reassured by initial reports that the leak poses no health risk, Shaffer said the final report on the leak might take up to one month to complete. He said ADEQ was looking into claims from residents that sewage had been leaking into the river in one form or another for weeks and would continue to monitor the site. ADEQ will wait until the investigation is finalized to decide what action to take, if any.

“This is just the beginning of the investigation,” Shaffer said. “We’ll file a report after all the data has been analyzed and see what comes down the pike.”

While residents near the river are happy they can breath fresh air again, they hope this is the last time they have to deal with raw sewage.
“There’s lots of people that use this river, including children,” Montoya said. “I just hope they really fix it and not just put a band-aid on it.”

Mark Lineberger can be reached at 567-3341, or e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Camp Verde Town Council members whipped out their scissors to cut through red tape Wednesday night, clearing the way for as many as three new fire stations in the lower Verde Valley.

The Camp Verde Fire District has plans to eventually build stations to provide better protection for residents and businesses in Middle Verde, Verde Lakes and along Hwy. 260 on the west side of I-17.

At issue was the town’s zoning ordinance, which made it difficult for separate organizations like the Camp Verde Fire District to build stations in primarily residential or commercial areas.

Before Sept. 5, the fire district would have only been eligible for a temporary use permit, and it could have taken as long as a year to get the necessary approval from the town every time the district wanted to build a new station, CFVD Secretary Treasurer Jack Blum said.

“I had concerns about building a fire station that would cost millions of dollars with only a temporary permit,” Blum said. “And with the rising cost of construction materials, we want to buy the parcels now.”

The council voted unanimously to change the language in the zoning ordinance, opening a loophole big enough to drive a fire truck through.
Blum thanked the council for its quick action.

Mayor Tony Gioia said it was the town’s duty to help provide safety for Camp Verde residents.

“[The fire district] is an essential public service,” Gioia said. “We know there’s a need and we want to do everything we can.”

Gioia said changing the zoning ordinance removed a major hurdle for the CVFD, although there are still some details to be worked out with the town’s Planning and Zoning Department.

Without the council’s vote, even waiting a year to start building could have been costly, Blum said, noting that the cost of construction materials has been rising almost 1 percent a month.

The fire district wants to use the same architectural designs for all three 10,000 square-foot stations, but Blum said the district’s first priority is for a station near the schools to serve Middle Verde. The CFVD is already looking at two-acre parcels of land in the area and Blum hopes to have that station completed within two years at a cost of $2.5 million to $3.5 million.

“For the sake of the people on this side of town, that might not be a bad idea,” said Jan Allen, an Arena Del Loma resident.

Mark Lineberger can be reached at 567-3341, or email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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