The Diamond Star Water Coalition presented the Payson Town Council with three options for resolving the annexation issue last night, but the council opted to reject the annexation petition on legal technicalities.
The annexation process was initiated by a group of Star Valley residents after the town agreed to accept water from a developer who is drilling wells inside their community. Fearing their own wells might run dry, the Diamond Star Water Coalition submitted petitions containing the signatures of 95 residents who live in the Diamond Star Fire District, the area the town is being asked to annex.
During the presentation, coalition spokesman Randy Roberson, told the council that a well "next door" to the developer's well suffered a significant drop in static water level each day during a recent seven-day pumping test -- a total drop of more than 15 feet.
"These wells are definitely communicating because they are both on the same aquifer," Roberson said.
The coalition also included video footage of Public Works Director Buzz Walker promising Star Valley residents that the town would not take their water. Walker was recorded making the remarks before some 400 people at a meeting held by the U.S. Forest Service in the Payson High School auditorium in 2001 on the town's proposal to drill exploratory wells in the Mayfield Canyon area of the Tonto National Forest.
He said, in part:
"I'll tell you why we're not interested in the water in Star Valley and Diamond Point. East of Star Valley and west of Diamond Point there is a great big closed up sanitary landfill.
"The thing you folks have to worry about is leachation of that landfill. That's what's going to put you at peril.
"You also have septic tanks in Star Valley and Diamond Point, and that's all you have for the wastewater disposal from your houses, and you're discharging that right over a shallow level aquifer where you get your water.
"We don't want that. We don't do that in Payson. We can't responsibly build a city on a water supply like that.
"So not only do we not want to harm anybody because we got to live with you, we got to recreate with you, we got to work with you, we don't want (that water). It is a peril."
Walker later responded that the town would be drawing water from a deeper aquifer that would not be affected by contaminants.
The three "solutions" offered by the coalition include:
(This solution, Roberson told the council, would increase Payson's tax base, but would involve significant costs for such services as road maintenance, emergency medical and fire protection, police protection, courts, parks and recreation, and "possible water contamination remediation.")
- Just say, "We will not take water from our neighbor."
(Roberson called on the council to pass a resolution ensuring that the town "will not have a negative impact on any area resident's water supply." He also noted that Blue Ridge water gives the town some flexibility in dealing with developers.)
(Calling it the "ideal solution," Roberson told the council that Arizona law requires the town to deny annexation before the Diamond Star area can incorporate, and that once incorporated "they can vote to close the doors to water projects such as this.")
In the end the council rejected the advice of Town Manager Fred Carpenter who recommended a preliminary analysis of the annexation request. The council also talked down a motion by Councilor Dick Reese to conduct the analysis in a spirit of partnership and include the benefits to the Diamond Star area as well as the town. Carpenter also suggested the analysis include incorporation advantages and disadvantages.
The council based its decision to reject the petition on a need for a consensus from Star Valley residents. Roberson told the council, and a coalition leader confirmed this morning, that a new petition will be circulated and submitted to the council as soon as possible.