Town Implementing Edwards' 17-Point Plan For Water/Growth

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Town Manager Fred Carpenter said many of the 17 proposed policy changes presented by Mayor Bob Edwards at the Aug. 4 council meeting could be implemented as early as next month. Others might take up to a half-year to materialize.

"The council will start voting on the motions at the next regular meeting after this one (Aug. 10) and some will be stretched over a length of time," said Mayor Bob Edwards.

Growth and water management topped the council's list of priorities.

The first goal: Settle disputes with Star Valley and assess Payson's current water status.

The town's 17-point conflict-resolution plan -- presented as a comprehensive package deal -- includes agreements, initiated by Payson, with Star Valley to address the regional impact of water extraction.

Motion No. 7 directs the water and legal departments to "negotiate an agreement with the Town of Star Valley for the use and development of water resources."

According to the policy, if Star Valley's upcoming safe yield study unearths a hydrological surplus, that water could end up in Payson's storage tanks.

"If there's excess to the safe yield study, we reserve the right to use that," Edwards said. "Star Valley is the biggest community adjacent to us. We need to establish a very upfront policy with Star Valley."

The cost of water

In April 2006 -- with the passage of Resolution 2098 -- Payson gave 1,000 ERUs to Terra Capital LLC in exchange for the deed to private property associated with the RH2 well.

According to Public Works Director Buzz Walker, 446 of those units are still unclaimed. Developer Kevin Sokol said he purchased 40 ERUs from Terra Capital at more than $5,000 each for his Boulder Ridge. At that price, the town could spend $2.2 million, if not more, buying back the outstanding water units.

On top of that, the town is legally bound to pay R&H Boulder and Granite, owner of the RH2 well, $750,000 over seven years for 130 gallons per minute of drought reserve that comes out of the RH2 well.

In 2011, Terra Capital's ERUs evaporate. As that deadline approaches, those water credits could lose value especially if the council strikes the 20 ERU rule, forcing developers to purchase water from the town, not outside suppliers such as Terra Capital.

"The market isn't really there in their time frame," Edwards said. "If you're a developer, you're not about to buy water from them."

Firm principal Michael Horton declined to discuss the details of his course of action.

As Payson hammers out its relationship with Star Valley, town staff prepares to embark on its first safe yield study since 1998.

The Payson Town Council will allocate $200,000 and up to two years to conduct the analysis, updating water resource data compiled nearly a decade ago by Southwest Groundwater Associates.

The results of the study will augment the town's annual water status report and provide a long-range perspective on the region's water supply.

"A lot has happened in the last eight years," Carpenter said. "It'll show us what water is available."

According to motion No. 6 in Edwards' plan, the council will refrain from voting on further development until the study is complete. Projects currently under way -- defined as those already presented to town staff with a conceptual plan -- are exempt.

To further monitor growth, the council proposed the elimination of the 20 equivalent residential rule while capping residential development at 250 permits annually.

The change in policy shifts the onus of water exploration from the developer to the town. Walker said builders will tap into the municipal water system, leaving water exploration to the town.

In turn, the town will assess higher water development fees to cover the costs of identifying new water sources.

"I don't care where (water) comes from," Walker said. "I just want to make sure it's there."

Some community leaders, Councilor Mike Vogel in particular, question whether the revised water plan constitutes a moratorium, defined by law as "a pattern or practice of delaying or stopping issuance of permits."

Edwards said he isn't concerned about potential litigation arising from a growth moratorium. Current water restrictions, he added, provide the legal foundation for the "compelling need" requirement of the statute.

Town Attorney Sam Streichman was careful to consider the notion of a moratorium. The process -- with its 30-day notices, council approval and public hearings -- wouldn't happen overnight, he said.

"We're starting to work on all the details of this. It's not our intent at this point to do a complete moratorium. There's a definite procedure set forth in the statutes."

The council's conflict-resolution plan also includes reassessing the town's long-term build out number, changing the vote required for rezoning from three-fourth to two-thirds and requiring all new projects to contain an affordable-housing element.

"We defined a game plan for the future," Edwards said.

-- To reach Felicia Megdal call 474-5251 ext. 116 or e-mail fmegdal@payson.com.

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