Pima County won a new state permit that could help ring in a building boom on the northwest side.

The county exceeded its capacity for new sewer-connection permits at the Marana Wastewater Reclamation Facility in 2010, forcing it to put around 340 planned residential and commercial buildings on hold for permits during the past two years.

The new state permit, which allows for significant expansion of the Marana plant and clears the way for new connections, "is very positive for the future of residential and commercial development in north Marana," Southern Arizona Home Builders Association President David Godlewski said in an email.

"This clears any possible roadblock and provides an assurance to those looking to develop in that area they will have access to wastewater service," he said.

Part of the overload was the result of permits issued for about 2,000 building projects the were subsequently put on hold by their developers due to the recession. Although the projects were stalled, the county couldn't legally reassign the capacity to other projects that were ready to be built.

"We were issuing capacity to Gladden Farms and other developments that were putting pipe in the ground. Even if they only built a fraction (of the homes), when they did build they would use the capacity," said county wastewater director Jackson Jenkins.

While the plant treats about 300,000 gallons a day, and could handle up to 700,000 gallons a day under the old permit, Pima County had issued enough permits for about 1 million gallons a day, Jenkins said.

Pima County applied to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality in 2010 for more capacity by submitting plans to expand the wastewater plant and recently received the permit.

The new permit allows building permits to be issued up to a capacity of 3.5 million gallons a day - meaning many new connection permits will become available.

The expansion plans were actually approved by ADEQ last year, but the agency held back on issuing the permit while the county and Marana worked out a long-running dispute over who owned the facility, which is close to being resolved.

The new state permit will eventually be transferred to Marana when the town buys the plant from the county as part of a legal settlement. Marana owes Pima County $14 million for the purchase.

"After settlement of the protracted case between Marana and Pima County, this permission is the next step toward potential new growth on the northwest side," Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Dave Perry said in an email. "It will eventually facilitate both residential and commercial development, particularly on the west side of I-10."

Oro Valley is "seeing a pretty good surge of single-family permits and multifamily dwellings as well, and I know there's more coming," Perry said, "so anything that can be done to allow those permits to move forward is certainly welcome news."

Other building and business leaders were equally optimistic.

"I think this is a great opportunity to put all this behind us and move forward," said Tom Dunn, director for Southern Arizona at the Arizona Builders' Alliance.

The economy has been a bigger problem for builders than the wastewater issue, he said.

Likewise, builders are excited, Ramon Gaanderse, executive director of the Tucson Utility Contractors Association, said, "because it puts us back to work on some of these projects."

"This clears any possible roadblock and provides an assurance to those looking to develop in that area they will have access to wastewater service."

David Godlewski, president, the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at bpallack@azstarnet.com or 573-4346.