Input Sought On Forest Wells

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Concerned that U.S. Forest Service officials might get the wrong reading of community sentiment regarding drilling exploratory wells near Diamond Point, a political action group is calling on Payson residents to make their views known.

Citizens for Better Payson Government (CBPG), a watchdog organization originally formed during Payson Mayor Ken Murphy's first days in office, is asking Payson residents to counter a campaign launched by residents of Star Valley and Diamond Point Shadows urging the Forest Service to deny the proposal by the town of Payson to drill up to 15 exploratory wells and 13 secondary test wells to determine the presence or absence of a significant aquifer system beneath the Diamond Rim project area northeast of Payson and Star Valley.

The proposal, which is currently under consideration following several modifications requested by the Forest Service, is based on the premise that the aquifer the town is interested in is deeper than and unrelated to the aquifer(s) that the wells in the areas opposing the project draw from.

The town recently completed a non-invasive survey of the area using sophisticated technology to further delineate the ground water potential of that area. Through the survey, the subsurface geology of the region was mapped by electrical current.

"We pretty much confirmed what the surface geologic investigation had told us about five years ago," Public Works Director Buzz Walker said, "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 ground water 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?"

According to Ranger Ed Armenta and other district officials, the exploratory wells, if permitted, would still be several steps removed from actual production wells.

"This project, if the Forest Service issues a special-use permit for these activities, would only involve exploratory drilling and testing to determine what ground water 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."

Armenta also has sought to assure Star Valley and Diamond Point Shadows residents that the project will stop if testing reveals any impact on their wells.

"Even in production mode, if they're pumping water and it affects private wells, it stops," he said.

At a public scoping meeting on May 18 at Rim Country Middle School, about 300 boisterous opponents voiced their opposition to the proposal. It is that meeting that triggered the call for Payson residents to get involved.

In an open letter "To the citizens of Payson," CBPG asks town residents to express their views before the June 15 deadline for public comment on the project.

Comments, ideas and concerns can be e-mailed to rbyers@fs.fed.us or mailed to: United States Forest Service, Tonto National Forest, Payson Ranger District, Attn: Mr. Rodney E. Byers, Payson, AZ 85541 Include your full name and address.

Armenta agreed to attend a public meeting of the coalition opposed to the project, coalition leader Chuck Heron said. The meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 7 at the Lamplighter RV Park community center in Star Valley is open to the public.

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