The town council's decision to pay George Randall and Roy Haught $750,000 for excess water from a Star Valley well was preceded by more than two hours of debate Thursday evening.
When the vote finally came, two councilors -- George Barriger and Dick Reese -- broke ranks and voted against taking water from their neighbors.
Barriger wanted to table the expenditure until a study of safe yield could be conducted in the Diamond Star area.
"There are a lot of questions, and I was hoping to get at least some of those questions answered," he said. "But it didn't turn out that way."
Barriger and Reese were on the short end of a 4-2 vote, making a referendum over the council's decision likely. In fact, opponents expect to file both the referendum and a petition to incorporate Diamond Star this week.
Following a Tuesday evening meeting of the steering committees of the Diamond Star Water Coalition and the Phoenix Street Extension Team, the two opposition groups hope to be collecting signatures for the referendum by the end of the week. Meanwhile, the incorporation petition drive is winding down.
"We're going out tonight (Monday) to get the final signatures," Diamond Star Water Coalition President Bill Rappaport said.
"We expect to have well over 800 signatures."
A polarizing issue
The Star Valley water debate has created allies on both sides. Diamond Star residents feel the town is stealing their future, while the council and some staff members believe they have been unfairly maligned.
During the Thursday council meeting, several attendees from each side were allowed to address the council. A brief summary of the comments made by each of the speakers selected by Mayor Barbara Brewer to present their respective positions follows.
Lloyd is a local attorney and Diamond Star resident who has been actively involved with the coalition in opposing the exportation of Diamond Star water to the town.
"I know most of you. I have lived here 30 years. This is my community. I consider you to be my friends," Lloyd said. "In the 1880s, it was legal for a man to beat his wife with a cane as long as the cane wasn't any wider than his thumb -- hence, the rule of thumb. And the reason it was probably the law was because women couldn't vote in those days.
"It was legal, but was it right? Was it moral? Was it any way to treat your best friend? Yes, it's legal to go into Star Valley, but is it moral?
"I think that's the issue that those of us who live outside your boundary have. I encourage you to be good neighbors -- do what's right, do what's moral, be good neighbors, and leave the Star Valley water in Star Valley."
Garner, a Payson resident, owns a business at Payson Municipal Airport.
"I'm here in support of what council and staff is doing. The town has laws to protect the town's water, and one of these laws restricts development to less than 20 lots before the developers have to provide water from other resources.
"I believe this developer is entering into a contract to provide this water and deliver it to the town water system. If any of these provisions are not met, then the development may not go ahead.
"This is appropriate and meets the long-range plans of the town. I also would like to commend the staff in looking ahead and upgrading the proposed water line to 12 inches or building a new tank and purchasing the excess water capacity. This is truly looking to the future and stepping out of the box."
A retired state legislator from Michigan, Edwards is a Payson resident who opposes one of the subdivisions Horton intends to build; he serves as leader of the Phoenix Street Extension Team.
"We recently did a poll of 78 members (of the team). If the poll is any indication of the rest of the town, I suspect that you have a frustrated, if not angry populace, and I seriously question whether tonight is helping alleviate that.
"Some of the poll results: 89 percent totally agree that the town seems to favor developers. When asked if development should be done according to the current zoning plan, 90 percent said yes. And when asked how they feel about Star Valley water, 100 percent said they felt it was wrong to take it.
"The resolution you're considering does not have popular support. You might want to turn an ear to the public, because they are beginning to speak loudly. And if they are not heard, they are going to yell."
White, co-owner of Phil White Ford in Star Valley, is also a member of the coalition. White recently drilled a new well when testing from a nearby well dried up his old one.
"Just to set the record straight, the well that pumped me dry is the one that has the big green tanks around it. I don't know the exact footage, but the footage to the new well (owned by Randall and Haught) isn't more than 300 feet away.
"It not only dried me up, but it cost me $10,000 to drill another well. I had to go down almost 400 feet. My neighbor's well went dry in the same area."
Public Works Director Buzz Walker interrupted to say the well that dried up White's well was not the Randall-Haught well.
"The new well you're talking about is just a few hundred feet away from the one that dried me up. I'm not going to fight with you; I just want you to be sensible."
A former mayor of Payson, Swartwood is now a real estate broker who told the audience Randall and Haught paid him to speak on their behalf.
"I think the evil genius Mike Horton did precisely what he was told to do, and I don't think that should make him a bad person, and I think it's very, very unfair he's been cast in that light, because all he did was what the rules told him to do.
"And I think the town council is just doing what their rules tell them they have to do, and I think what I heard from the town council and the town staff is their word that they're going to do everything they can not to harm anybody in Star Valley.
"Well those of you who are against this, some of you are dramatically anti-growth. I'm not going to change your opinion. I respect your opinion.
"But I think George and Roy didn't do this for the money. They are making a profit, but there's nothing evil about making a profit. What they're doing is assuring jobs for about 2,000 people."
See related stories:
Diamond Star water to cost town $750K (Aug. 26)
Citizens groups to protest at town council meeting (Aug. 23)
Diamond Star rallies behind coalition
Diamond Star says, 'no deal, they still want our water'
Town officials, Diamond Star representatives agree to talk
Developer says taking water 'not a moral issue'
Neighbors question proposed subdivision