Payson Passes Water Agreement

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A water development contract between the towns of Payson and Star Valley, intended to protect the water interests of each municipality, passed by a slim margin at the Payson Town Council meeting Thursday evening.

"We have to, at some point, put these emotional issues to bed and get on with dealing with things in a businesslike manner," Mayor Bob Edwards said.

The detractors of the agreement said Payson is making concessions, and Star Valley is calling the shots.

"I'm not willing to let Star Valley tell Payson what to do," said Councilor Mike Vogel.

The terms of the agreement, which have been in negotiation since August, are vague and fall in Star Valley's favor, he added.

The contract accomplishes several goals: Payson and Star Valley cannot harm each other's water supply; both entities must abide by the results of a $50,000 safe yield study paid for by Payson and scheduled for completion in January, and each town must collaborate on future water-finding efforts.

"I think right now we're letting everyone else direct us on what we're going to do," said Vice Mayor Tim Fruth. "It's a political agreement. Under the current condition, either table it or let Star Valley do something with it."

Payson and Star Valley must also agree to form a committee comprised of three representatives from each party, including at least one water provider. For Payson, an employee of the water department would serve that capacity, but Star Valley doesn't have a water department.

And that, according to Councilor Andy Romance, is disconnection.

"Payson is a water provider and Star Valley isn't," he said.

Star Valley, unlike Payson, does not have a municipal water system.

"The Town of Star Valley doesn't own any wells," added Payson resident Robert Henley.

Residents either receive water from private wells or hook into the Brooke Utilities service area. Vogel, who voted against the agreement, added that Payson, if it all, should be entering into a contract with Brooke Utilities, rather than Star Valley.

But then, Henley said, other affected parties, such well owner Chris Benjamin -- who has been outspoken against Payson's water policies -- should also be considered.

"It seems that the agreement would be with Mr. Benjamin." Henley said. "It's his well that has the impact."

Vogel also said he had concerns about the representation of the negotiating group. The other Payson town council members -- aside from Edwards and Ed Blair -- said they were not included in the discussions, nor was Water Superintendent Buzz Walker. At least two Star Valley councilors -- Art Lloyd and Randy White -- the town's mayor, Chuck Heron, and Benjamin were involved on Star Valley's behalf.

"I think there needs to be better representation from Payson," Vogel said.

Perception is part of the issue. Walker said the region's water situation is taken out of context for the sake of a few wells. The solution to the Star Valley-Payson water dispute, he added, is uncomplicated. The safe yield groundwater capacity, based on past studies, for the area around the Tower well is about 1,700 gallons per minute, he said. Walker suggested allocating two-thirds to Star Valley in perpetuity, but Edwards declined.

The resolution passed four to three.

The Payson Town Council did agree to a few concessions before the motion passed. Romance asked that the council appointed committee members who would serve two-year terms and implement a clause that would force the council to re-evaluate the agreement annually. To finalize an intergovernmental agreement between the towns, Star Valley's council now must approve the contents of the contract at its next council meeting in January.

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