Town Water Officials Absent From Star Valley Meeting

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Tommie Martin's attempt to bring both sides of the Star Valley water dispute together failed when town water officials declined to participate.

Martin, the District 1 county supervisor, convened a special fact-finding meeting of the Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning at Gila Community College. Presentations were made by the Diamond Star Water Coalition and Leslie Myers, water conservation coordinator for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, on the regional water study currently in progress.

But Buzz Walker, town public works director, told the county earlier this month that he had a problem with the meeting agenda.

"Our decisions are made by our town council in a town of Payson public meeting based on our requirements pursuant to local and state law," Walker told county officials in an e-mail dated April 7. "We agreed to meet with the board of supervisors to provide information on our participation in regional water study projects and on Payson water supply projects. We did not agree to create a parallel decision-making process that circumvents our town of Payson development process and our town council."

Walker was upset that some people left the county meeting with the impression that the town just didn't show up.

"(Martin) was on the radio Monday morning and she said, ‘I don't think the town is going to be at the meeting.' I heard her say it," Walker said. "So they knew it, and they knew why -- because we don't conduct town business under the county board of supervisors.

"We don't see how any good can come from it. It just gives somebody an opportunity to beat up on town staff."

Fearing their own wells might run dry, the Diamond Star Water Coalition is fighting the town's decision to accept water from a developer who is drilling wells inside their community. At a town council meeting on March 10, the coalition submitted petitions asking the town to consider annexing Star Valley, but said their real objective was incorporation.

In his memo to the county, Walker noted that the coalition's views had already been presented at that meeting and they would be considered.

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Chairman Joe Sanchez of the Gila County Board of Supervisors, makes a point during the Star Valley water hearing.

At the conclusion of the county meeting on Tuesday, the supervisors expressed their hope that the town will eventually sit down with the county and the coalition to work on a solution. District 3 Supervisor Shirley Dawson specifically addressed Vice Mayor Judy Buettner, who was in attendance.

"I do hope that the vice mayor will encourage the town of Payson to work with us in finding a solution to this," Dawson said. "Some people believe a decision has been made that is irrevocable, but I hope that we'll work together and find a way that we can co-exist.

"You have such a beautiful area here, but without water you don't have anything, and with contaminated water you have a serious problem."

Dawson was referring to claims made during the coalition's presentation that if the town pumps excessive amounts of water out of Star Valley, contamination from an unremediated gas tank leak, hundreds of septic tanks, and an unregulated dump site will result. The coalition highlighted its concerns in a Powerpoint presentation narrated by local radio personality Randy Roberson.

"The last pump test that was performed in February 2005 at a rate of some 400 gallons per minute had an effect on wells as far away as four-tenths of a mile to the west," Roberson said. "If it affected a well downstream four-tenths of a mile, it could quite possibly affect the monitoring wells at the old dump which is four-tenths of a mile upstream."

Following Roberson's presentation, Diamond Star Fire Chief Gary Hatch summarized the coalition's position.

"Our concern is what we will do if we don't have water," Hatch said. "If the town puts these wells into production and it causes contamination, who's going to clean it up? The town told us, ‘If we drain your water, you can go find water yourself.'"

Walker maintains that the water the town wants is from a totally different aquifer.

"We think there's a certain amount of water in the fractured system out there -- not the sand and gravel, but the fractured system -- that will more than support what the developer wants to send out of there," he said. "(Star Valley residents) are not pulling out of the fractured bedrock system; they're pulling out of the sand and gravel."

Martin said a water lawyer was present at the meeting at her request.

"I'm having him look into some of the suggestions that Star Valley offered up, to see if they're really options for us." she said. "He came up afterwards and said these are areas we need to look into. I said, ‘Look into them.'"

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