Developer Says Taking Water 'Not A Moral Issue'

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The developers who are trying to bring Star Valley water into Payson say they want to replace fear with facts.

G. Michael Horton, Stephen Carder and John Back, all principals in Scottsdale-based Terra Capital Group, agreed to an exclusive interview with the Roundup so they could tell their side of the issue. They contacted the Roundup shortly after an informational meeting demonstrated considerable public opposition to Forest Edge, one of three developments that would utilize water from Star Valley.

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G. Michael Horton, the developer who wants to bring Star Valley water to Payson, says the "real water" is in a different aquifer.

"I got the sense in that meeting that there's a feeling that what we've done in Payson up to now has been done behind closed doors, and that this is a good old boy (thing)," Carder said. "I've got to tell you none of that has gone on."

All Terra Capital did was comply with the town of Payson's established policy for "bringing water from an outside source," according to Carder.

"We believe we're within our legal rights, and we also believe at the end of the day the water that's going to come from our well to Payson is not going to harm Star Valley," he said.

Terra Capital maintains that the water it wants to take out of Star Valley comes from a different aquifer, and that the testing required by the town proves it.

"One of the things you'll see in the reports is that there were other wells that were monitored at the time we were doing the testing on our well, and you'll see that they did not go down," Carder said. "(Nearby neighbor Chris) Benjamin's well, for example, only dropped 15 feet while our well dropped 300 feet, so that tells you they're not exactly connected."

Town won't divulge study

The Diamond Star Water Coalition, the group that organized to try and stop water from being piped to Payson, said the town has not allowed them to see any test results. Carder says he can't understand why the town would refuse.

Terra Capital admits that the casing in the well the company drilled in Star Valley is perforated, a fact the coalition says proves that water is being extracted from all levels. But Horton says that doesn't matter.

"The primary water we're getting is over 700 or 800 feet deep," he said. "That's where the real water is.

"They're not using that water anyway. They have shallow wells which are highly likely to get polluted as they continue to do whatever they're doing out there."

Not a moral issue

The Terra Capital principals do not see the issue as a moral one.

"We have a piece of property, we've drilled a well, and we're going to utilize the assets," Horton said. "I think the whole idea of saying this is a moral issue is obfuscation. It's not a moral issue; everyone out there drills wells."

And drills them with little regard to the consequences, according to Horton.

"Star Valley is going to have a water crisis no matter what because there's no planning," he said. "Somebody goes to build a house and they go drill another well, so is that a moral issue?"

Waiting for Blue Ridge

The Rim Country's economy would wither if developers waited around for Blue Ridge Reservoir water to arrive.

"The business community will die in this town," Horton said. "This town survives on construction and basically the tourist type of thing. If that's not here, there aren't going to be any jobs.

"Roy Haught is not going to be selling granite. George Randall is not going to be selling concrete. Many of the construction workers live in Star Valley; they're not going to have jobs."

Just get along

Besides, Payson and the Diamond Star area have too much in common to be feuding, the developers believe.

"It doesn't make any sense for Payson and Star Valley to fight, because if Payson doesn't run the pipeline, Star Valley is still going to have all the same problems," Horton said. "But if they do run the pipeline, there is a solution to all their water problems, and that is annexation or (for the town) to (just) provide them with water."

Horton offered to meet with representatives of the coalition.

"If we can sit down with one or two of the coalition -- not the whole mob -- and we come up with an agreement, I'll take it to the town," he said.

And contrary to what town officials have said, Horton claims the town would be obligated to provide Diamond Star with water if it annexes the two communities.

"The reality is if they annex them they have to provide services," he said.

In the meantime, the battleground has shifted to obtaining an easement for the pipeline across Benjamin's land.

"The position of the Benjamins is that we can't cross that property," Horton said. "We believe we can, so either we just do it and let the chips fall where they may or there will be substantial litigation."

For the developers it's all part of the process.

"It's an issue, but it's one of many issues you encounter when you're developing," Carder said. "There's always easement issues that you have to contend with."

"Development is risky," Horton added.

Council looks at annexation

The Payson Town Council will take up the subject of annexing the Diamond Star area at a special meeting scheduled for 5:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4.

Payson Town Manager Fred Carpenter will present a detailed study that recommends that the town annex Diamond Star. The meeting follows another special meeting at 5 p.m. to adopt the final budget for the 2005-2006 fiscal year.

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