Troubled builder defends record - East Valley Tribune: News

Troubled builder defends record

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Posted: Monday, July 31, 2006 6:14 am | Updated: 2:21 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and . . . George Johnson? Johnson, a Scottsdale-based developer who has racked up record fines in recent years from state regulators accusing him of environmental violations, has launched a Web site to chronicle what he characterizes as the government’s persecution of a proletarian hero.

The Web site,, contains biographical information about Johnson and two journal entries about his struggle against regulators and the media, with the promise of regular updates in the future.

The first entry explains his reasons for establishing the Web site, which include sharing information not found in the local media about his dealings with government officials.

“The real story is that regulators and politicians need someone to point to, to convince the public they are doing their jobs,” Johnson writes. “They do this by going after someone and the papers regurgitate their spin without much in the way of thought or research.”

Johnson, who has described himself as a champion for the working class who has built affordable housing in Pinal County, said one purpose of the Web site is to stick up for the less fortunate in their own struggles against government oppression.

“What about the small business man, who is making a good living for his family, trying to do right by his community, and is forced to litigate against the state to do what they are required to do by law?” he writes. “It gets my blood boiling when I think about how many people share a story similar to mine yet are forced to knuckle under to the government when they are in the right.”

Johnson’s second journal entry describes an ongoing lawsuit with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality in which he accuses the agency of refusing to release public documents he requested.

“If this were an isolated incident, you could chalk this up to some incompetent boob or brain dead bureaucrat,” he writes. “No, this is more common than not, I am afraid.”

Johnson is best known as the original developer of Johnson Ranch, southeast of Queen Creek.

He also planned to build 67,000 homes, a resort, golf courses and commercial developments at La Osa Ranch, a property he purchased in Pinal County north of Tucson.

However, harsh criticism by environmentalists, the military, Gov. Janet Napolitano and others doomed the project.

Still, in 2003 Johnson’s companies began bulldozing an estimated 2,000 acres on the site, including about 270 acres of state trust land, alleges a lawsuit filed by Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard.

A separate federal complaint issued by the Environmental Protection Agency states the debris created from grading the land was dumped into the Santa Cruz River and the washes that feed it in violation of federal law.

Johnson did not obtain the required permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to discharge debris into the waterways, according to the complaint.

He also has been accused of killing endangered desert bighorn sheep near La Osa Ranch by exposing them to a herd of goats, which infected the sheep with a disease that causes blindness. Johnson has said the goats escaped from the ranch without his knowledge.

Johnson’s problems with the state DEQ revolve around his water utility, Johnson Utilities LLC, which has racked up dozens of state violations and a record $80,000 fine for digging a well and transporting water without regulators’ approval.

During an April 2003 hearing, Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman Marc Spitzer criticized Johnson for using his relationship with Pinal County to defy DEQ requirements, and for getting developers in his service area to pay the entire $80,000 fine for him.

On the site, Johnson says that the state lawsuit has gone nowhere, and that DEQ has suffered “more than a few setbacks” in its efforts against him.

“My business activities have come under scrutiny for a number of reasons and the papers write about these events as if Atilla the Hun were let loose upon Arizona,” he writes. “The truth, as they say, will set you free.”

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