The Diamond Star Water Coalition made its case for incorporation before an estimated 200 residents of Star Valley and Diamond Point Shadows Monday evening.
Calling the town of Payson a "predator," attorney and Star Valley resident Art Lloyd joined coalition president Bill Rappaport and Phil White Ford co-owner Randy White in rallying area residents to support a petition to incorporate as a town. The nonprofit coalition wants to keep Payson and local developer G. Michael Horton from pumping water out of Star Valley for three new developments in Payson.
"If we are incorporated, we have a better chance of protecting ourselves from predators like Payson than we do if we are unincorporated," Lloyd told those in attendance.
‘Leave us alone'
White, representing the largest business in the Diamond Star area, called on residents to consider the issue and make the same choice he has.
"I've already run it through my heart and mind and I've got it straight -- I know what I want to do," White said. "This petition is about voicing our (desire) to protect our water, and to protect the things that we hold dear out here."
Rappaport and Lloyd told their neighbors that they moved to the Diamond Point area to be left alone.
"I did not want any government," Rappaport said. "I did not want anybody telling me what I could and could not do, and that's how I got pushed into this position. You get to a point where you say enough is enough and nobody is going to take away my rights."
A moral dilemma
Although Horton has said that taking water out of Star Valley is not a moral issue, White characterized it as such, and said many Payson residents also see it that way.
"People have an unusual sense of fairness and they know when someone is being taken advantage of," he said. "It doesn't take politicians to tell what is fair, what is honest, what is moral, what is ethical."
Meeting with town failed
Rappaport told those in attendance that the meeting held last week with the town to try to find a solution was disappointing.
"They basically told us they are going to take our water," he said. "There is no discussion on that; they have plans to come in and start using Star Valley water."
Rappaport also said the town is avoiding the facts and its true motives.
"We basically asked for information regarding testing the wells -- what studies have been done," he said. "They did a lot of dancing around, a lot of smoke and mirrors. They said they would get back to us this week with some type of a proposal, and we're still waiting."
Payson Town Manager Fred Carpenter disagreed with Rappaport's assessment of the meeting.
"I wonder if we were at the same meeting," Carpenter said. "I can't commit the town to anything. I report the information and then wait to see if anybody suggests we do anything, and that's where it's at right now."
Close to 600 signatures
The coalition needs a little more than 600 signatures, representing two-thirds of the registered voters in the Diamond Star area, to achieve incorporation without an election. So far between 550 and 600 residents have signed, but the coalition wants to collect 800 signatures to be safe and to send a message.
"The reason we're pushing to get over two-thirds so we don't have to have a vote, is to convince two bodies that we're united out here," Lloyd said, "One (body) is the (Gila County) board of supervisors, and the second body is the town of Payson."
White noted that the town wasn't interested in negotiating until the petition drive gained momentum.
"It's interesting that now they know the petition is rolling, Payson wants to talk," he said. "Now they want to offer something.
"Why didn't they offer us something before? I can't answer that question."
Experts on board
Through donations, the coalition has built a "war chest" to fight the town, part of which has been used to hire a hydrologist and valley municipal attorney Bill Farrell, who is also the town attorney for Cave Creek and Queen Creek.
"He was instrumental in the incorporation of both those communities," Rappaport said. "He sat down with our auditors and we've come up with a budget; we will get a sizable amount of money from the county and the state -- more than enough to put the town together."
Lloyd said that Farrell is confident the town's expected challenges to the legality of the petition the coalition originally presented to the town will not succeed.
"They've challenged on some of the technicalities, but the town attorney (Sam Streichman) helped me draft the petition, so it's kind of ironic that they're now saying it's not a very good one," Lloyd said. "Our municipal attorney (Farrell) has looked at it, and he's perfectly willing to defend it."
Other coalition action
The coalition is also proceeding on other fronts:
- The American Civil Liberties Union is evaluating whether the town of Payson is violating the civil rights of Diamond Star residents.
"There is a statute that says that if a town or town council comes into another existing community and puts that community into jeopardy by either (taking) water or building a dumpsite or whatever, it's a violation of that community's civil rights," Rappaport said.
- The coalition said that Gila County now admits that the closed landfill near Horton's well in Star Valley could cause contamination if too much water is extracted.
"They will not allow anybody to take water out of the town if it's going to jeopardize the existing water system," Rappaport said.
Town hall model
Once incorporated, Rappaport and Lloyd are confident that the new town can keep Horton from piping water to Payson. Both men also expressed the desire to avoid having "a bunch of high-paid city officials running things."
"I think what we should do is go back to town halls, where everybody who comes to the meeting has a vote, instead of having seven people saying this is what we're going to do," Rappaport said. He also noted that "Diamond Star" is just a working name for the town, and that residents will decide on the town's new name once incorporated.
The incorporation petition can be signed at the Diamond Star fire station. For more information, go to www.diamondstarwater.org.