Central Arizona Project officials and board members are giving conflicting accounts of how they will decide which applicant they will allow to tie into an existing CAP pipeline near Sahuarita.

CAP General Manager David Modeer and a top aide, Tom McCann, have been telling Tucson officials and two pipeline applicants that the water project must both let both applicants tie into the pipeline - or neither. They've said they're acting on direction from their board - although not from a formal vote.

But three of four CAP board members who represent the Tucson area say they know nothing of such a policy and had not discussed giving the staff direction to proceed with it. Those members are board Vice Chairman Warren Tenney, Sharon Megdal and Patrick Jacobs.

The fourth CAP board member from Tucson, Carol Zimmerman, has recused herself from involvement in this issue because her public relations firm, Zimmerman and Associates, represents Community Water Co. on the pipeline project.

Zimmerman has in the past also represented Rosemont Copper, whose groundwater pumping for the proposed Rosemont Mine is supposed to be offset by the CAP water that Community Water pipeline brings into the Sahuarita-Green Valley area for recharge.

The "all or nothing" position would essentially force the Tucson City Council to accept the application from a Green Valley-area company working with the parent of Rosemont Copper - which the council generally opposes - if it wants to approve an application from Farmers Investment Co., with which council members have been friendlier.

That's because CAP and the city agree that both of them have to approve any application to tie into the pipeline.

The pecan-growing FICO and the Community Water Co. of Green Valley are seeking permission to connect their proposed new CAP pipelines to an existing line in the Sahuarita area that is jointly owned by the project and the city. That would save them time getting their pipelines extended into the Green Valley-Sahuarita area. Rosemont Copper's parent, Augusta Resource, has agreed to pay the Community Water Co.'s pipeline's $25 million construction cost.

On Tuesday, the council is to discuss what criteria to use in deciding which applications to grant.

In an email to Tucson City Council members and staffers last week, Tucson Water official Sandy Elder repeated the CAP staff position.

CAP's Modeer said Friday that the "all or nothing" issue was discussed in executive session in 2011 or 2012. Because the discussion took place behind closed doors, he said he can't talk much about it, "but the board concurred with a policy that has been in place at CAP for a long time, a nondiscriminatory policy."

That policy has existed "forever - since CAP has been delivering water, back in the middle '80s," Modeer said. He said he didn't remember if it had come from a formal board vote or from project staff.

If the City Council doesn't want to give access to that pipeline to Community Water Co., "we'd have a serious issue with that," Modeer added.

"They are a CAP subcontractor and have the same right anyone else has, probably a greater right, because they have a CAP subcontract and have been paying into CAP for repayment of the federal investment since the beginnings of the project," Modeer said.

But "I don't believe that the board has ever said it is either both or nothing," said board member Megdal, who also is director of the University of Arizona's Water Resources Research Center. "I don't know that we've had that conversation. Do you only support a hookup if both are allowed to hook up? I don't believe we've been asked that question."

City Council members Steve Kozachik and Karin Uhlich last week expressed discomfort with CAP staff's position.

"If we set a policy that if we pick one applicant we have to pick everyone, that is analogous to having across-the-board budget cuts," Kozachik said. "That's not taking into consideration the quality of the applicants."

Megdal, Tenney and Jacobs did recall discussing and agreeing on the principle that CAP and the city of Tucson must approve an applicant to connect to the existing pipeline.

"All or nothing - I don't remember using those terms," Jacobs said. "We can't discuss those kinds of issues till we get concurrence with the city."

Uhlich said she believes the CAP staff, like the city staff, can't get direction from its board without a formal vote.

"That's an important open-meeting question," Uhlich said. "I don't know of any mechanism for a formal body to give direction without a formal vote."

CAP's Megdal, however, said there could be some policies that don't need board action.

"What does or doesn't have to come to the board, lawyers would have to answer."

Contact reporter Tony Davis at tdavis@azstarnet.com or 806-7746