Paper of record: The stories that defined Queen Creek in 2018

In 2018 the Queen Creek Independent covered the ins and outs of the community, offering reporting of local issues.

Issues like what was new with Johnson Utilities, preparing for what’s next after a 21-year drought, preventing suicides, planning for the 70-square-mile San Tan Valley, the latest on annexations and the boundaries of new schools.

The Queen Creek Independent in print and online at queencreekindependent.com also offered a salute to the accomplishments of local students, the outcome of local elections, business news and your scenic photo submissions. And there was watchdog reporting too, such as how often the council meets in closed-door executive sessions, town and school district budgets increasing funding set aside for pensions, and sheriff’s office and fire department response times.

This is how the biggest stories of 2018 unfolded.

1. Your opinions

What truly defined what the Independent offered in calendar year 2018: A voice — for you, the reader.
No matter the issue — big or small — if a resident had an opinion, critical or otherwise, the hometown newspaper for more than 128,000 annual unique digital users, 24,000 receiving the newspaper monthly by mail and scores more online at queencreekindependent.az.newsmemory.com made sure those in power heard their perspectives.

Readers who years ago would have put pen to paper e-mailed their opinions to qcnews@newszap.com or went to stories online and, while signed into Facebook, posted their comments.

Many of the online letters are also included in the monthly editions of the newspaper.

2. Johnson Utilities

Water was in the news a lot in 2018, from Johnson Utilities to the east and plans for a regional recharge facility to the northeast in Apache Junction. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

A utility based in San Tan Valley but providing water to some residents of the Town of Queen Creek was in the news a lot in 2018.

Tom Forese, then chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission, detailed some of concerns in an opinion piece, writing: “It is apparent to me that Johnson Utilities continues to struggle in its ability to operate a reliable water system and provide the heightened level of customer service expected by the commission. I look forward to discussing these issues with my fellow commissioners when we consider whether to appoint an interim manager for Johnson Utilities.”

At a July 26 hearing, the Arizona Corporation Commission voted to approve an interim manager to temporarily take over operations of Johnson Utilities, which serves about 11,000 customers in Queen Creek and its surrounding areas. Epcor, which is privately owned, won the contract bid over the towns of Queen Creek and Florence.

3. 21st year of drought

To prepare for a continued drought and its effect on water provided by the Central Arizona Project canal or underground, utilities for Gold Canyon, Apache Junction and Queen Creek are recharging water and obtaining long-term storage credits. They are also considering a partnership to recharge water at a future facility near Apache Junction.

Arizona is in its 21st year of a long-term water drought and many are concerned about the future water supply — where it will come from and how much it will cost.

Despite those concerns, local officials are convinced the two sources of water they most rely upon — Central Arizona Project water and groundwater — will remain stable and that residents won’t have to worry about their taps running dry.

Officials with CAP, which provides much of the water for the region, say a two-decades-long drought is seriously straining the Colorado River system that provides canal water from Lake Mead, according to cap-az. com, With Lake Mead below 40 percent of capacity, the seven Colorado River states, including Arizona, California and Nevada, are preparing to act should it continue falling toward critical surface levels.

If CAP allocations were to slow, groundwater from wells would take up the slack in the east Valley, providing water to faucets in homes and businesses, plants to be irrigated. But to prepare for that, and to ensure there are no dry cells from pumping too much groundwater, a local recharge site is needed, officials contend.

4. Suicide prevention

People lined the street in front of Queen Creek High School for the Kindness Crew event put on by Project Connect 4. Supporters held signs to show the students they are loved. (Miles Metke/Cronkite News)

A suicide prevention group rallied in front of Queen Creek High School to show support for students, who had lost five classmates to suicide since May 2017. The fifth death was reported in February, according to an article from Cronkite News.

About 100 people gathered in front of the high school, holding signs with positive messages. Their goal was to show students that even if they don’t think they matter, they do. The group stood along the street to make sure all the students would see the signs as they arrived to class.

Several local organizations held suicide-prevention discussions in 2018. They included Banner Ironwood Medical Center and the Town of Queen Creek. The Queen Creek Unified School District hosted a “More than Sad: Suicide Prevention for Parents” program.

5. San Tan Valley plan

San Tan Valley, east of the Town of Queen Creek, is to encompass an area about the size of the town of Gilbert, according to a comprehensive planning document approved by the Pinal County Board of Supervisors.

A total of 70 square miles of land have been carved out on the northwest side of the county in the plan. It includes Germann Road to Arizona Farms Road and from the Central Arizona Project canal to Ellsworth Road following the county line into the Meridian Road alignment.

In the decade from 2000 to 2010, San Tan Valley grew from a rural area of 4,976 residents to an urban community of 86,665 people. It has further expanded to 102,539 people as of 2016, according to a planning document.

An examination of employment characteristics shows that of the 32,552 employed San Tan Valley residents, 98 percent commute to jobs outside of San Tan Valley. Of those, 80 percent are working in Maricopa County.

6. Pinal County transportation tax on hold

Lawyers for Pinal County taxpayers in February asked an Arizona judge to issue an order barring the county from collecting a half-cent transportation excise tax scheduled to go into effect in April. That tax, passed as Proposition 417 at the November 2017 election, is the subject of lawsuits brought by citizens and small businesses represented by lawyers with the Goldwater Institute.

A judge agreed. Pinal County appealed the Arizona Tax Court judge’s decision that a half-cent transportation sales tax approved by voters violates state law.

Projects to be built with the half-cent sales tax include the 36-mile North-South Parkway between Apache Junction/Gold Canyon, Florence, Coolidge, Casa Grande and Interstate 10. The estimated cost of the design and construction of the principal arterial is $326.4 million, with Pinal County slated to contribute $30 million in additional funding towards the project.

7. Annexations

A view of the Ironwood Crossing housing subdivision. (File photo)

Property owners to the east petitioned to be annexed into the Town of Queen Creek.

The Queen Creek Town Council on March 7 approved an annexation of 1,485 acres between Meridian Road and Ironwood Drive and Ocotillo and Germann roads, including Ironwood Crossing.

The annexation includes the Fulton Homes Ironwood Crossing master planned community generally between Ocotillo Road/ Pima Road and Ironwood Drive/Meridian Road.

Existing commercial development is at the northeast corner of Meridian and Ocotillo roads. A Safeway shopping center is proposed at the northwest corner of Ocotillo Road and Ironwood Drive. To the north of Ironwood Crossing is a 530-acre parcel owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the southeast corner of Meridian and Germann roads is a 201-acre property owned by Zimmerman Dairy.

Pre-annexation development and water-exchange agreements with Trilogy Encanterra Construction were approved by the Queen Creek Town Council in December. The agreements are in relation to the Encanterra master-planned residential and commercial project south and east of Combs and Gantzel roads. The development at build-out will have an estimated 2,700 residents

8. Future development

A Wienerschnitzel Hot Dog Restaurant is coming to Queen Creek. (Submitted photo)

The article at queencreekindependent.com with the largest number of page views in 2018, and still clicked on in 2019, is “Town of Queen Creek becoming a development epicenter.”

The story told of a suburban feel with roots to a rural past fueling development in Queen Creek along with land availability.

A real-estate broker familiar with the area said affordable land and its availability are pluses for Queen Creek.

The story listed numerous businesses that were planning to locate in Queen Creek, including An ALDI Food Market grocery store, Lowes Home Improvement, Hampton Inn and Suites, Wienerschnitzel Hot Dog Restaurant, Safeway, Culver’s, Pressed For Time Dry Cleaners, Salad and Go, Sodalicious, Palette Collective, Firestone Automotive, Nando’s Mexican Cafe, Planet Fitness, Five Guys, ATI Physical Therapy, Heart to Soul Reiki, Greulich’s Automotive and Mountain America Credit Union.

9. Transportation in and out of QC

Construction projects planned in 2018 included widening and realigning roads and adding roadways to, from and within the Town of Queen Creek. (Arianna Grainey, Independent Newsmedia)

Plans continue for work on roadways taking vehicles in and out of the Town of Queen Creek.

Town officials in late 2018 were working on an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Mesa for the design and construction of Signal Butte Road from Germann to State Route 24. The IGA was also to accept terms for the design and construction of Meridian Road from Germann to State Route 24.

Other roadways discussed in 2018 to be upgraded include: An Ellsworth Road lane expansion of four to six lanes from Germann to SR 24; Signal Butte, adding one lane in each direction from Germann to Pecos; and a Meridian Road expansion to SR 24.

Just to the east of Queen Creek, work continued in 2018 on Pinal County’s Hunt Highway Phase 4 and Gantzel Road Improvements. Work was in the south end of the project, from Johnson Ranch Boulevard/ Gantzel Road to Magma Road in Hunt Highway. It included utility work on the west side of Hunt Highway, with Hunt remaining open for travel, one lane in each direction, with traffic shifted away from the work zone.

The Maricopa County Department of Transportation has a Riggs Road corridor project for roadway widening and traffic improvements. This project is designing improvements to the unpaved section of Riggs Road from Crismon Road to Meridian Road. The project includes constructing a three-lane road and improving the existing intersection of Riggs Road and Rittenhouse road to meet capacity needs

10. New schools

As the Town of Queen Creek has grown, so has the local school district. The planned Eastmark High School and a new elementary school have boundaries after the Queen Creek Unified School District Governing Board discussed and approved by a vote of 4-0 the areas for both schools in October.

For Eastmark High School, the southern boundary follows Queen Creek Road from the district’s easternmost boundary at Meridian Road to Rittenhouse Road. It then follows Rittenhouse Road to Sossaman Road.

For the new elementary school — referred to as Elementary School No. 7 — the boundaries will follow Signal Butte Road from Warner Road to Ray Road. It then follows Ray Road west until Crismon Road, then veering south to Germann Road. This will be the dividing line between the new school and Gateway Polytechnic Academy.

Editor Richard Dyer can be contacted via e-mail at rdyer@newszap.com or at twitter.com/rhdyer or facebook.com/RichardDyerJournalist

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