The water war between Payson and the Diamond Star area spilled over into the legislators' forum at Gila Community College Monday.
Bob Edwards, chairperson of the Committee for Community-Based Growth, fired the first salvo during the question and answer period.
"Payson appears to be in a critical water situation, at least that's (the impression) we get from the newspaper and other sources we can identify," the former Michigan state legislator said. "Our town leadership seems not to be aware of this, or, when confronted, they ‘blue sky' it -- or should I say ‘Blue Ridge' it -- without giving us any concrete plans on tie-in, feasibility or costs for the project."
Blue Ridge Reservoir, atop the Mogollon Rim, could triple Payson's water supply, but it will take many years and big dollars to get its water to Payson. In the meantime, the town has agreed to accept groundwater piped from Diamond Star by a developer who wants to build three subdivisions in town.
"At the same time, they are pushing real hard to increase development and increase density within the town, and their answer to the water problem is to steal it from neighboring communities," Edwards told the legislators.
He explained that over 1,900 voters had signed a referendum petition to stop the pipeline project, but that the town is allowing the developer, G. Michael Horton, to begin laying the pipeline anyway. Edwards concluded by asking the three legislators to step into the fray.
"We aren't going to be able to solve this regional problem unless there is some kind of outside force, because obviously Payson is the big kid on the block and it can kick the tar out of those (Diamond Star) folks," he said. "You need to step up to this issue and help us deal with it."
Payson Mayor Barbara Brewer, who was in the audience, responded.
"We are not stealing anybody's water," she said. "The water belongs to George Randall, Roy Haught and Mike Horton, who is buying the wells.
"The town currently does not have any money invested in this at all. The water belongs to those gentlemen, and they're not doing it to increase density in the town."
The mayor then referred to "a land use plan" and the town's Corporate Strategic Plan as the documents guiding the town's growth policies.
"We are not using it to increase density on land that is already zoned properly," she said.
Rep. Bill Konopnicki responded first.
"It is easy to ask for somebody else to solve your problems," he said. "If it were the three of us, you'd have a shot at doing it.
"But remember, there's 87 (state legislators) that we have to convince, and they want one thing.
"They don't want Payson to build. They want the water to come down (to the Valley) so they can build."
Then Rep. Jack Brown commented.
"If you want to see any changes on the state level, it's going to take a long time and long study," he said.
Edwards said he wasn't asking for the legislature to solve the problem, only for the three legislators in the room to use their influence to help mediate a solution.
But Brown had ruled that out in his opening remarks.
"I know you are arguing and fighting over what to do," he said. "That's just a local issue between you guys."
Konopnicki then called on another audience member and the subject was changed back to the college issue.