The Governor’s Office withdrew three of its nominees to an advisory board that oversees Arizona’s Superfund program after Salt River Project objected that they may have conflicts of interest regarding an ongoing lawsuit against the utility giant.
Brewer nominated 12 people this legislative session to the Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund (WQARF) advisory board, but withdrew the names shortly before their confirmation hearings in the Senate Government and Environment Committee.
SRP spokesman Scott Harelson told the Arizona Capitol Times that the utility raised concerns during a meeting with Kevin Kinsall, Brewer’s natural resources policy adviser, and Joe Sciarrotta, her general counsel. Harelson said three of the nominees — David Iwanski, David Kimball and Donovan Neese — appeared to have conflicts of interest in a lawsuit brought by the Roosevelt Irrigation District.
The lawsuit, which the district filed in 2010, names 98 companies, government entities and others, including the Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District, as defendants. The district sued to force the defendants to pay for the cleanup of decades-old groundwater pollution from two Superfund sites that it said is seeping into Roosevelt Irrigation District’s groundwater.
Harelson said SRP is one of several entities that contacted the Governor’s Office to provide input about nominees to the advisory board.
“As the largest provider of water and power to the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, SRP is frequently in contact with state and Valley leaders about matters important to our customers. The business of the Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund advisory board certainly falls into that category,” Harelson said in an email to the Capitol Times. “Our objective is to seek neutrality with respect to ongoing litigation involving the future business plans of the Roosevelt Irrigation District.”
Harelson said he did not know who else contacted Brewer’s office about the nominees. Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder would not comment on why the governor withdrew the nominees, nor would he say who contacted the Governor’s Office.
Kimball, a former board member and an attorney with the law firm Gallagher and Kennedy, represents RID in a water remediation project. Gallagher and Kennedy originally represented the district in the lawsuit, though it no longer represents RID. Kimball said he is not involved in the litigation, though he was at one point. Neese is the district’s superintendent. Iwanski is a consultant who does work with Gallagher and Kennedy, and served for years as the City of Goodyear’s water resources manager.
A fourth nominee, Edward Ricci, said he withdrew his own name because his consulting firm often works with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, which oversees WQARF.
Kimball said the Governor’s Office informed him shortly before his April 9 confirmation hearing that it was withdrawing his name. The Ninth Floor did not give him a reason for the withdrawal, he said.
Kimball said SRP’s interference in the board nominations is hypocritical because other nominees are involved in the litigation on behalf of the alleged polluters.
“Did SRP object to other members that are being considered that are nominated that are in the group that are identified as polluters?” Kimball said. “There are a number of other parties who are apparently being stacked who are the polluters, and their names are being stacked on the WQARF advisory board. For what purpose?”
New board member Karilee Ramaley is a staff attorney at SRP. Philip McNeely, who was confirmed to the board on April 23, is an environmental programs manager for the city of Phoenix, which is also a defendant in the Roosevelt Irrigation District lawsuit. And George Van Velsor Wolf, a Snell and Wilmer attorney who is nominated for the board, previously represented Holsum Bakery Inc., a defendant in the suit.
Harelson said Ramaley testified that she will recuse herself from any matters pertaining to the district. Kimball said he would have recused himself from votes on irrigation district issues as well.
Neese said he told the Governor’s Office that he, too, would recuse himself from district-related issues. Neese said he was unaware of the reasons for the withdrawal of his nomination, but was unconcerned about SRP’s objections.
“There’s no sense it taking these kinds of things personally,” he said.
Iwanski said he would have liked to have known the reason his name was withdrawn. He said his work with Gallagher and Kennedy wouldn’t have been an issue.
“I have been doing some consulting work for Gallagher and Kennedy since I left the city of Goodyear, but nothing that I would imagine raised any conflicts,” Iwanski said. “If that was the concern, then I wish somebody would have asked me specifically if I thought there was a conflict. Please give me that opportunity to explain it.”
Kimball also questioned why SRP would be concerned about the membership of an advisory board with no binding authority.
But Harelson emphasized that ADEQ takes the board’s recommendations into consideration.
“SRP believes it’s important to emphasize the importance of impartiality by all executive agencies and boards, particularly given the litigation,” Harelson said.
The Roosevelt Irrigation District lawsuit involves cleanup at three Superfund sites in Phoenix. The district alleges that pollution from those sites has contaminated 20 of its groundwater wells in the West Valley.
Superfund, formally known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, is a 1980 federal law to clean up sites contaminated by hazardous pollutants. WQARF is the state-level Superfund program.
Besides the four withdrawn nominees, Brewer nominated eight others to the 19-member board, seven of whom have been confirmed. The board has not met since 2010, and Brewer’s nominations were the first she has made to the board since taking office in 2009.