Four representatives of the Diamond Star Water Coalition delivered petitions to Payson deputy town clerk Marci Huffman Monday afternoon asking the town to annex Star Valley.
The petitions contained the signatures of 95 residents who live in the Diamond Star Fire District, the area the town is being asked to annex.
"That's more than 10 percent of our registered voters," Chris Benjamin, owner of Sky Run RV Resort, said. "That wasn't required, but it just shows you we have a number of people."
The signees are requesting annexation to counter an attempt by the town and a developer to pump millions of gallons of water from at least one well in Star Valley down Highway 260 to the town's water system. The coalition is concerned that the town's acceptance of water from one or more Star Valley wells will deplete their community's already marginal water supply and may even lead to the contamination of both Star Valley and town water.
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.
Accompanying Benjamin to Payson Town Hall was Matt Benjamin, his son; Greg Mulligan, co-owner of the Lamplighter RV Resort in Star Valley; and George Binney; owner of Payson General Rental and Reliable Plumbing, also in Star Valley.
"I'm appalled, quite frankly, with as many churches as we have in this community," Mulligan said outside of town hall. "Taking from your neighbor isn't one of the things they profess."
The town now has 120 days to respond to the petitions. If the council says yes, annexation must then be approved by 51 percent of the residents in the Diamond Star Fire District.
Supervisor enters water fight
After meeting with the Diamond Star Action Coalition, District One Supervisor Tommie Cline Martin decided to convene a workshop session of the Gila County Board of Supervisors to discuss the issue.
"Every other board meeting is a workshop, where we can thoroughly discuss an issue without taking action on it," Martin said. "That's the only way I know for us to get up to speed because of the open meeting laws."
Martin said the workshop might not be held until March due to scheduling conflicts, but that it will be held in Payson and will be open to the public.
"I will go to the town and ask them to (make a presentation)," she said. "Why is this even an issue? What is your side of the story? And we will have a presentation from our legal folks -- how can we legally get involved in this conversation."
Martin said there isn't much she can do in the meantime to stop the town.
"All I can do is frown at people between now and then and say, ‘How do we slow it down?'" she said. "I don't know how much of it is panic and how much is really a fast track."
ADEQ says Star Valley water at risk
The coalition has obtained copies of several source water assessments done by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and issued March 9, 2004, concluding that the water sources for Sky Run RV Resort, Spur Bar, C Bar Diamond RV Park, Lamplighter RV Resort, and Payson Water Company (a subsidiary of Brooke Utilities) are "at high risk," meaning "land use activities or hydrogeologic conditions exist that make the source water susceptible to possible future contamination."
"The guy at the county health department didn't even know (the assessments were) done," Benjamin said. "He called (ADEQ) and got copies, too."
Benjamin believed the assessments reinforce his contention that the new well has the potential to speed contamination.
"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?"