Well Plan Prompts Protest

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Opponents plan to turn out in force on Tuesday, May 18, for a public open house/scoping meeting on the proposed Payson Diamond Rim Water Exploration Project.

At the meeting, which will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Rim Country Middle School cafeteria, district officials will provide project details and accept written comments from interested citizens.

The project consists of the exploratory drilling of up to 15 primary and 13 secondary test wells to determine whether or not there is a significant aquifer system beneath the Diamond Rim project area northeast of Payson and Star Valley. Originally referred to as the Mayfield Canyon project, it is opposed by some residents of Star Valley and Diamond Point Shadows who claim their wells will be adversely affected by any drilling in the area.

While the project has subsequently been moved further away from those two communities, the fundamental issues remain the same, according to Chuck Heron, chairman of the Diamond Star Citizens' Action Coalition.

"The basic issues are still there that we fought on the Mayfield Canyon thing, except that the wells are moved further up under the Diamond Rim," Heron said. The coalition also complained that the district is discouraging attendance at the meeting by only posting it in legal ads in the Payson Roundup.

(Editor's note: The Roundup also received a press release from the Payson Ranger District announcing the meeting, on which this story is based and another story was printed in the May 11 edition.)

The district held a private briefing for coalition members at Gila Community College last week. At that meeting, district officials explained that the exploration does not mean approval of actual production wells for use by the town.

"This project, if the Forest Service issues a special-use permit for these activities, would only involve exploratory drilling and testing to determine what groundwater resources are present and collect information to conduct future assessments of the aquifer," a project fact sheet stated. "Any subsequent development of production wells would depend upon the results of testing."

Unlike a previous public meeting regarding the Mayfield Canyon project, the town of Payson doesn't plan to present its position at the Tuesday meeting.

"It's a different format from the last time," town Public Works Director Buzz Walker said. "Last time (town Water Resources Hydrologist) Mike (Ploughe) and I presented what we wanted to do in the auditorium. This time it's done with storyboards and we actually have a consultant run the meeting."

Another development since the last meeting is the completion of a non-invasive survey of the area conducted by the town utilizing sophisticated technology to further delineate the groundwater potential of that area. Through the survey, the sub-surface geology of the region was mapped utilizing electrical current.

"We pretty much confirmed what the surface geologic investigation had told us about five years ago -- that there is potential for water out there in the ground, there is potential for water at depth, sometimes at 1,000 feet, and that there appears to be a groundwater barrier between that particular watershed and any one to the west. Of course, that's what these studies will bring out. Now you have to do the drilling to prove all this hypothetical stuff -- are we accurate or not?

Walker doesn't understand why nearby residents oppose the test wells.

"Who would get upset about real-world knowledge?" he asked.

The town is not planning to begin drilling anytime soon.

"Probably at the very earliest, if everything fell into line, would be next winter or next spring," Walker said.

Written comments will be accepted until June 15, 2004. Citizens who would like to comment but are unable to attend the meeting should call 928-474-7900.

For more information, contact Rod Byers, Payson Ranger District lands staff officer, at 928-474-7900.

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