The Ahwatukee businessman who came up with a way to deliver cheaper water to the Club West Golf Course thinks the time for implementing his idea has passed.
In an interview with AFN last week, Rande Leonard said the completion of the South Mountain Freeway and some other developments have increased the cost of a pipeline he had envisioned extending from Gila River Indian Community land.
“This is a problem,” Leonard said. “I’m afraid the solution has gone away.”
He also suggested that the Edge Team’s proposal may be the only viable way of saving the Club West site from becoming the eyesore that Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course has been since it closed in 2013.
“In my opinion, they can at least react to a real deal on the table instead of hoping for a better deal to come along,” Leonard said. “That is hoping against hope.”
Leonard said the Edge Team asked him to attend its open house tonight, Jan. 29, at Altadena Middle School to answer questions, but he was distressed that he won’t be able to give a presentation.
“They want me to sit at a table and answer questions, but this is complicated. It requires a 30-minute presentation,” he said.
Regardless, Leonard, owner of Pecos Storage on Indian land across from 32nd Street, said he’ll be on hand to explain why his solution likely no longer works and why the Edge Team may be offering the only hope for golf to continue at Club West.
Water has been an issue for Club West Golf Course ever since June 2016, when owner Wilson Gee stopped irrigating the site as he tried to pay a $700,000 bill to the Phoenix Water Services Department.
Originally, the course was irrigated with reclaimed water through a plant that developer Del Webb built in the 1980s.
But after 12 years, the city abandoned the plant and tore it down, citing high operating costs. The city allowed Gee to buy potable water at a discounted basis on a sliding scale that eventually went to current rates by 2013.
When Richard Breuninger took over the course in the fall of 2017 after signing a $1 million promissory note to Gee, he turned on the spigots and restored the course to a lush green.
But it turned out that Breuninger was running on borrowed time and may not have paid the city a dime for water, letting the bills pile up.
The city shut off the tap in February after Breuninger ran up a $160,000 debt and the water has never been turned on since.
During his ill-fated ownership of the course, Breuninger frequently pointed to Leonard’s pipeline plan as the course’s ultimate salvation, even hanging up diagrams and schematics of the its path in the clubhouse.
Leonard’s plan was sufficiently developed that even the Arizona Department of Transportation did what it could to facilitate the project, although it turned down a request by LD18 lawmakers and city Councilman Sal DiCiccio to build the line.
ADOT officials said such a move would violate the state Constitution’s gift clause, but they agreed to install concrete sleeves beneath the freeway so the line could run through that.
Now, Leonard said, completion of the freeway has complicated matters because most of the stretch along the freeway between 40th and 24th streets has been landscaped and contoured.
Installing a pipeline now would require tearing that up and then restoring it, he said, adding “I don’t know what that would cost.”
Further complicating the plan is that Salt River Project has agreed to only a five-year contract for the price of the water the pipeline would draw on from the reservation.
That means, he said, that SRP after that five years could charge a higher price - although some Club West residents say companies often set five-year limits on a price and that there is always room for negotiating that period ends.
Completion of the freeway “will add a substantial amount to the cost” of the pipeline itself, Leonard said.
And once the uncertainty of the water costs itself are thrown in, Leonard said, any owner of the course might wind up essentially where Gee and Breuninger ended up in the past – with water costs exceeding budget.
As an example, he said that if the pipeline cost now totaled $1.4 million – “I have no idea what the cost would be now,” Leonard stressed – the golf course owners could amortize that over five years.
But that doesn’t solve anything in the long term, he suggested.
“There are three costs – the cost of the pipeline, the pumping cost and the water cost,” Leonard explained. “You can arguably be back to $500,000 a year.”
“When you start assessing the risk-reward, it you might as well just use potable water from the city,” he said.
When Gee posted the course for sale after he foreclosed last September on Breuninger’s note, his ad stressed that along with the $850,000 sale price of the course, any buyer would have to pony up $1.2 million for the pipeline’s construction.
“Had the trigger been pulled when the freeway still wasn’t built, it could have been accomplished,” Leonard said, stressing no deal lasts forever.
He also said ADOT can’t be blamed. “They have been nothing but helpful all along,” he said. They have not been a problem.”
Leonard said he had stepped forward initially with the pipeline plan because “I was trying to be a good neighbor” and that DiCiccio had asked him to see if he could figure out a solution. Leonard also said that while he’s not water expert, “I know the complexity of dealing with the tribe” since they own the water rights.