The open house on the proposed Diamond Rim Water Exploration Project nearly degenerated into chaos Tuesday evening as some 300 opponents attempted to harass Forest Service officials and consultants off the Rim Country Middle School gymnasium floor.
The hostile audience, comprised primarily of residents of Star Valley and Diamond Point Shadows, objected to a proposal by Payson to drill up to 15 exploratory wells and 13 secondary test wells to determine whether or not a significant aquifer system is beneath the Diamond Rim project area northeast of Payson and Star Valley.
Although the proposal includes significant testing of nearby wells to determine the impact of the new wells, residents of the area fear their wells will be drawn down.
Ed Armenta, head ranger for the Payson Ranger District, warned attendees that turning out in numbers at meetings will not be a determining factor in whether the proposal is approved.
"I need to tell you," he said, "(that) this isn't a voting issue. This isn't about having a petition or how many folks vote no or vote for.
"We have a proposal and we want to make sure we're doing the right thing, we're addressing the issues and we're not having an impact on your wells or the national forest."
It was when Armenta attempted to break the general meeting into an open house format with attendees visiting one-on-one with the experts and officials that the audience turned on him.
"We don't like that format," one shouted.
Armenta attempted to reassure attendees. "Even in production mode, if they're pumping water and it affects private wells, it stops," he said.
"We don't trust the Forest Service," someone hollered.
Just as chaos appeared imminent Chuck Heron, chairman of the Diamond Star Citizens' Action Coalition, stood and asked his group to follow the format.
"Let's move around, talk to these people, and then if we need to we'll have a meeting on our own," Heron said. While some left the meeting, most complied.
In a one-on-one exchange between Armenta and Heron, the head ranger told the opposition leader that his show of force didn't reflect the majority viewpoint of the entire Rim country community.
"If we sent out a press release telling the people of Payson they were going to be out of water and you were the people stopping it, we'd have five times the people here and you would be in the minority," Armenta said.
"You've got people that live in the town that are looking at a million gallons a day going on two golf courses," Heron responded. "You're not going to sell them on the fact that we're cutting them short on water."
As attendees straggled out of the gym into the dark night, one was heard to say, "That's the ugly side of small town life."
Heron announced yesterday that Armenta has agreed to attend a meeting of his group at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, June 7, at the Lamplighter RV Park community center in Star Valley.
The meeting is open to the public, but people planning to come are asked to car pool because of limited parking.