A group of Star Valley residents has initiated a petition drive to have their community annexed by the town of Payson.
The Diamond Star Water Coalition is a group of homeowners and businesses who are trying to protect Star Valley's water from being taken by the town of Payson. They are also concerned about contamination from mixing Star Valley and town water.
Chris Benjamin, a member of the group and owner of Sky Run RV Resort adjacent to property containing one of the wells, said being annexed by Payson is not Star Valley's first choice.
"Look what the town has done to the people of Star Valley," he said. "They have forced them up against a wall. They have forced them to get a petition drive going for annexation, which is about the same as me going and asking for a prostate exam. We don't want to be in the town of Payson."
But the town, Benjamin claims, has left them no other choice.
"If we do nothing, we'll lose our water and our property values will probably plummet," he said. "The possibility of selling a piece of property would be next to impossible."
The Payson Town Council recently approved a letter of assurance to a developer that water obtained from a well site at the northeast end of Star Valley will be accepted for the development of a 37-acre parcel behind Payson Town Hall and other properties within town limits.
While the council placed a number of restrictions and conditions in the letter, Benjamin and other members of the coalition believe the town is merely using the developer to get at water it has long coveted.
According to Benjamin, the coalition has also contacted the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality over concerns that the new well also has the potential to contaminate area water.
"One hundred and fifty feet from the well they're putting in is my ex-partner's leach field, and within 300 feet is my leach field which is hooked up to 27 houses," he said. "If they put this well in (production) with a huge, high performance pump, are they going to be pulling our effluent into our pristine water?"
The annexation petition was drawn up by local attorney Art Lloyd, a Star Valley resident and member of the coalition. It reads:
"We the undersigned, owners of real property situated within that certain urban area, the legal description of which is set forth below, and being qualified voters and residents of said urban area, hereby petition the town of Payson, pursuant to Arizona Revised Statutes 9101.01B(2) and other statutes, to annex all of the below described lands into the town of Payson. All of the below described lands are within the boundaries and confines of the Diamond Star Fire District as presently constituted."
There are about 2,600 residents within the fire district, but no minimum number of signatures is required on the petition, which the coalition intends to present to the town council in the near future. Town attorney Sam Streichman, who discussed some of the legal issues with Lloyd, explained the process.
"This is a preliminary petition," he said. "There are not statutory rules about what I think they're attempting to circulate. This is just an initial step to what, I think, they have a mind to present to the council -- to ask the council to go forward under the statutory guidelines."
Streichman said the council can choose to start the official petition process or not. Payson Mayor Barbara Brewer said she could not predict how the council might react, but that the desires of the residents should be respected.
"I would just like to listen to what the voters say -- all the people that are involved," she said. "I wouldn't rule it out because that's not listening to what the people are saying."
Brewer also said annexation might be good for everybody.
"What are the chances of their wells holding on through the drought," she said. "Everybody is in this together and we should all be working together."
If the council says yes, annexation must then be approved by 51 percent of the residents in the Diamond Star Fire District. That approval is far from a foregone conclusion, according to Benjamin.
"There's a lot of real radical people out there that can't see having no water as being worse than being part of the town of Payson," he said. "I personally think that if I own an RV park in Payson, it's going to be worth more than an RV park in Star Valley."
For more information, to join the coalition, or to sign the petition, contact Benjamin at (928) 474-4728.