Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cragin: Last thing we need is a pipeline to nowhere

Payson officials hope to replace or repair parts of the water pipeline from the Cragin Dam to the town, to prevent more leaks like this one from 2007. (Photo courtesy the Salt River Project)

Inspection of the pipeline from Cragin Dam to Payson, like this 2008 job, is complicated by the fact that it crosses territory — and turf — controlled by two different federal agencies. (Photo courtesy the Salt River Project) 

Officials say feuding between federal agencies have delayed maintenance and problems, like this 2007 break, on the pipeline that feeds water from the C.C. Cragin Dam and reservoir to the town of Payson. (Photo courtesy the Salt River Project) 

Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – The Town of Payson got $10.6 million in federal stimulus funds toward two water pipeline projects connected to C.C. Cragin Dam and reservoir in Coconino National Forest in 2009.

But when it came time to order pipe sections, the order was held up by an ongoing feud between the Forest Service and the Bureau of Reclamation over which agency manages Cragin Dam — and which should approve Payson’s project.

In essence, the federal government was blocking Payson from spending federal dollars.

“It was frustrating, because we knew what we needed to do,” said Payson Water Resource Manager Mike Ploughe. “I’m thinking, ‘Do I go ahead and order the stuff? Do I try to return some of it or sell it later?’”

The feud has been going on since 2005, when Cragin Dam was transferred to the federal government under the Arizona Water Settlements Act of 2004. That law gave title to the dam and its related facilities to the federal government and specified that Salt River Project would operate and maintain them.

But while the reclamation bureau manages water projects from the Great Plains to the West Coast, the forest service maintains that the 2004 act did not explicitly take away its management responsibility for Cragin Dam.

“We weren’t asked to testify on that (2004 water settlements) bill, so we weren’t aware of all the details,” said Bob Cordts, the forest service’s director of southwestern lands and minerals.

The service had previously issued a special-use permit for maintenance to the old owner, Phelps Dodge Corp., and wanted to continue that arrangement with SRP under the new law.

Reclamation bureau officials bristled at the suggestion, wanting an agreement that would give them approval authority and would let the forest service handle land-management issues. That’s the setup for Salt River federal reclamation project facilities in the Tonto National Forest.

But the forest service refused, stalling maintenance on an existing water pipeline.

“They (service officials) felt very strongly that they needed a special-use permit to allow that pipeline to go across their lands,” said Randy Chandler, the reclamation bureau’s Phoenix area manager.

That has resulted in “dueling approval requirements” that set back SRP’s planned maintenance and inspections, and, in some cases, forced it to rewrite documents and plans for the forest service that the bureau had already approved.

SRP said “bureaucratic wrangling” between the agencies constantly holds back necessary maintenance.

“These delays cost SRP and Payson significant money and pushed out repair work by a year or more,” said Dave Roberts, SRP’s manager of water resource management.

Forest service officials said differences between agency approval processes cause the delays. For example, the forest service considers projects using a different section of the Endangered Species Act than the bureau, and the service’s process is much slower as a result.

“I don’t think it was ever our intent to delay or hold up these projects,” said Mogollon Rim District Ranger Brian Dykstra of the forest service. “We processed those decisions and those approvals as quickly as we could.”

After a four-year stalemate, agency officials turned to Congress in 2009 to settle the dispute.

“In the end, it seemed like the best solution was a law to clarify jurisdiction,” Cordts said.

Arizona lawmakers have introduced four bills since 2009 to clarify that the reclamation bureau should oversee all Cragin Dam facilities, and the forest service should handle land-management activities. Not one has made it to a floor vote, even though three of the bills faced no opposition.

The bills’ progress teaches an important civics lesson: The legislative process is more nuanced than what “Schoolhouse Rock” explains.

“There are thousands of bills introduced every year, and it’s really a matter of capturing the attention and time of someone who can get it (one particular bill) considered,” said Sarah Binder, a senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institute.

Former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, introduced a bill in April 2009, followed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a month later.

Almost 18 months passed before Kirkpatrick’s bill got a hearing, and it went no further. McCain’s bill got a hearing two months after it was introduced, then stalled for almost a year. Although his bill made the Senate legislative calendar in August 2010, it never came up for a vote.

One factor in Congress’ inaction may have been that, after asking Congress to intervene, the forest service and the reclamation bureau asked for more time to work it out on their own.

“If there’s local conflict, that’s probably going to slow things down,” said Binder.

The forest service opposed Kirkpatrick’s bill because the bill didn’t specify the service’s land-management responsibilities. The agency did not oppose McCain’s bill, but officials from both agencies told Congress they wanted another shot at negotiating early on.

“I think the bill has, obviously, spurred a lot of discussions between reclamation and the forest service about how to move forward,” bureau Commissioner Michael Connor said during a July 2009 Senate hearing.

The two agencies both support the current bills, introduced in January by McCain and Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Flagstaff. Both bills are already out of committee.

Binder said that the agencies’ continued inability to reach agreement and their support of the current bills may have helped move the legislation this time. But she said the sponsors’ committee assignments may also be a factor.

Kirkpatrick was on the Homeland Security, Small Business and Veteran’s Affairs committees, but her bill went to the House Natural Resources Committee. McCain is on several committees, but not the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which considered his bill.

Gosar, however, is on the House Natural Resources Committee, which again took up the Cragin bill.

And this time around, slight improvements to the bills have earned the support of both the bureau and the service, Cordts said.

There’s no guarantee either bill will pass, but Binder said it’s just “a matter of time” if the legislation gets on the right calendars.

Those affected by the now six-year struggle hope it will be settled this time — especially Payson officials, who got the approval to spend their stimulus funds and are already seeing pipe sections arrive.

“It’s just been a roller coaster we can’t seem to get off of,” said Ploughe. “The last thing, I’m sure, any of us want to have is a pipeline to nowhere.”

1 comment:

Noble said...

I urge everyone to contact Rep. Paul Gosar. At a Tea Party meeting last evening, he claimed he had a bill on the floor of congress which would fix all the problems with the hold up on getting Blue Ridge water.
Let's see if he can back up his claim.