Pipeline Assessment Finds Little Impact

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Just as the Pine water system begins to recover from its annual thirst, the U.S. Forest Service has entered another public comment period on a proposed water pipeline linking Pine to Strawberry.

Brooke Utilities, the parent company of the main water providers to the P-S area -- E&R, Williamson Water Works and United Utilities -- is proposing to construct an 8-inch underground pipe between Strawberry and Pine, capable of delivering up to nearly 300,000 gallons of water per day.

Named "Project Magnolia" for the tree's incredible thirst, the pipeline's planned route is east of Highway 87 and south from Strawberry to Pine -- simple connection of the community's water systems, said Robert Hardcastle, the company's president.

Because the proposed pipeline would cross national forest land, the water company was required to complete an environmental assessment in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

The 24-page environmental assessment details the purpose, need and how the pipeline would impact forest land. It states that "no impacts would occur" on biological or cultural resources.

Public can review document
The document is available to the public at the Payson Ranger District Office on Highway 260. Contact Rod Byers of the Payson Ranger District at 474-7900 to request a copy. The public has until Aug. 19 to comment in writing on the environmental assessment, said Byers.

After that time, District Ranger Steve Gunzel will forward a summary of the comments and the assessment with his recommendation to Forest Service Supervisor Charles Bazan in Phoenix, Byers said.

Bazan will have another 30 days to review the information and make a decision, but even then it is not final, Byers said. Once the decision is posted, it must go through another 45-day appeal process during which anyone can appeal the decision "based on supported facts stating why the decision was wrong," Byers added.

If the project makes it through these final hoops it will still face a 45- to 90-day construction timeline, placing completion of the proposed project into the year 2000.

Brooke hauled 530,000 gallons of water from Strawberry to Pine this summer, and in 1997 4.5 million gallons were hauled from Strawberry to fill the empty tanks in Pine. In 1998 customers were placed on strict conservation for a little more than a month, but no water was hauled.

Hardcastle said the pipeline would be designed to allow water flow in both directions -- from Strawberry to Pine and from Pine to Strawberry, and was never meant as a solution to the Pine water shortage. It is meant to bring water from a system with excess to a system with a shortage, he said.

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