Town Council Weighs In On Tonto Apache Land Exchange

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When the spotlight hit the subject of the Tonto Apache's efforts to obtain a land exchange with the Forest Service at Payson's south edge, the emotions expressed at Thursday evening's town council meeting were as varied as the concerns.


Town Manager Richard Underkofler filed a request for authorization of an application -- under authority of the Town Site Act -- for Payson to acquire both the SR-87 right-of-way and 20 acres of land west of SR-87 that the Tonto Apaches have proposed to acquire in a 273-acre land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service.


The 20-acre parcel is adjacent to the town-owned multi-event center, and is connected to 273 acres by a 400-feet wide stretch of land and highway.


Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner voiced his fear that, if the highway itself becomes trust land, as the Tonto Apaches hope, jurisdiction regarding traffic accidents or crimes committed on that strip of land could become hopelessly clouded.

Buffer zones

Rim View Heights resident Celeste Parsons blamed her real estate agent for not saying that the National Forest which backs her land -- now part of the exchange -- would not always be there. Parsons suggested that a "buffer zone" be created between current homes and proposed tribal residential properties, and was not happy when Vice Mayor Ken Murphy said, "Nothing we can do or say will change it. This land exchange is a done deal."


"I feel the town has just tossed us aside," Parsons said.


Murphy added that Forest Service officials have stated they will continue to accept public comment on the land exchange until May 19.


The view of Tonto Apache representative Farrell Hoosava was simple and straightforward: "We've earned the right to buy that land."


The council agreed to work with the Tonto Apaches and those with homes near the land-exchange acreage to discuss their differences in a public meeting.

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