Monday, June 28, 2010

SV council delays decision on Payson water deal

By Matt Brabb
Mogollon Connection Editor

The Star Valley Town Council discussed, but did not to take action on an Intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with Payson regarding water rights during its regular council meeting on Tuesday. The IGA was proposed and passed by the Payson Town council over a month ago.

A majority of the council clearly support the measure, even though many admitted to having just received the document that day.

The proposal has three major components. First, the Town of Payson has offered to sell three wells that it owns that are located within Star Valley for $99,000, with the condition that Star Valley limits the pumping from those wells. Second it agrees to limit the pumping of the Tower Well, which has been at the heart of the friction between the two towns for the last several years to 855 acre-feet per year. Lastly, Payson agrees to be an emergency water provider for Star Valley should the need arise.

Critics have claimed that the IGA is more symbolic than anything, and as currently written doesn’t alter the status quo between the two towns to any meaningful extent.

They point out that under current conditions Payson is already limited to pumping 855 acre-feet per year from the Tower Well. That number is considered the maximum that can be extracted while remaining within “safe yield” which is the policy used by Payson in determining well production limitations. Payson Mayor Kenny Evans said that improvements could be made to the well to increase that figure, but as things stand, the proposed limit of 855 acre-feet does not alter the current pumping limit.

Critics have also pointed out that the Payson Town Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution to become an emergency water provider to outlying Rim Country communities in a meeting several months ago. The measure was passed to allow Payson to provide water for Mesa del Caballo, which has suffered water shortages on a regular basis over the past few years, but the resolution would apply to Star Valley as well.

Access to two of the three wells that Payson is willing to part with may also be an issue. Several years ago, Star Valley resident Chris Benjamin won a court battle that denied developers access to both wells, because pipelines would have to run across his property. As a result, Payson was never able to develop these wells.

Star Valley may face the same difficulty in gaining access to the wells.

Still, Star Valley Mayor Bill Rappaport was enthusiastic about the potential for an agreement.

“This is an act of faith between our two towns,” he said. “Payson is gifting us; this is the first real progress we’ve made to heal the wounds between the two towns. They are extending a hand of friendship, and I can’t see pushing it away.”

Star Valley Water and Sewer Commissioner Vern Leis agreed.

“If we say no, Star Valley will cease to exist,” he said.

Councilor Barbara Hartwell also spoke in favor of the IGA.

“Those of us not directly involved should back off and trust the water and sewer commission,” she said. “Without the water, we won’t get the sewer.”

Councilor George Binney was slightly less enthusiastic about the prospects for an agreement.

“I really hope we can make this work, I do have a problem with sections 8.2 and 8.3 (dealing with limitations on Tower Well production); it’s pretty hard to swallow,” he said.

“I see that the Tower Well is being protected, and we’re protecting our three wells, but there is no protection for all of the individual well owners,” he added.

The harshest criticism over the proposal came from Councilor Gary Coon.

“I’m not in favor of this,” he said.

In particular, he spoke of his fear that the town would not have access to two of the three wells it was considering purchasing.

“That restriction is still in place, and if we purchase them, we still have that problem; if he (Benjamin) says no, we have to make a decision going forward.”

Town Manager/Attorney Timothy Grier said that it would be confusing if Benjamin made that decision at this point.

“He was protecting Star Valley water at that time,” he said. “But that is not the issue now. He would be standing in the way of Star Valley becoming a water purveyor. It would be ironic if Mr. Benjamin used the results of a lawsuit funded by the Star Valley Water Coalition to stop Star Valley now.”

When contacted, Benjamin said that he had not yet made up his mind about giving the town access should the council vote to buy the wells from Payson. He said that he wanted to meet with the Star Valley Water and Sewer Commission to discuss how much of an impact pumping the wells would have on the well that supports the Sky Run Gated RV Resort, which he owns and operates.

Benjamin claims that when the Tower Well is used, Sky Run Well levels drop, and he fears the impact that the two new wells might have because they are even closer to the Sky Run Well than the Tower Well.

Coon had other objections to the proposed IGA. He noted that what the town was really after was getting access to its share of water from the CC Cragin (formerly Blue Ridge) Pipeline.

The town can only do that if it becomes a water purveyor, which according to Grier is why it needs the wells Payson is willing to sell them. The town will have access to at least one of them, and that should be enough for the town to qualify, though according to Grier it is difficult to nail down exactly what SRP requires to be qualified as a water purveyor.

Coon advised going back to the Payson Town Council and asking to negotiate a clause in the IGA that states that Star Valley will be able to use the Tower Well pipeline to deliver water from the Cragin water treatment plant to Star Valley.

“There’s nothing in here about the pipeline,” he said. “The part that might make this a good deal is the part that is not in here. We need to go back and negotiate.”

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