2006: The Year In Review

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It was a year of change for Payson. 2006 opened with a heated election that ended with a new mayor and several new members of the town council. Mayor Bob Edwards immediately set about following his campaign promises to manage growth and examine water issues in the town.

It was also a big year for Star Valley. The town's residents seated a new council, led by Mayor Chuck Heron. They voted to change the name of their town from "Diamond Star" to "Star Valley." They celebrated their one-year anniversary as a town and saw the exodus of one town manager and the hiring of another.

2006 was also a year of fire prevention. When a wildfire broke out in February, the earliest in history for the area, everyone braced themselves for a bad fire season.

Fortunately, new firebreaks, well-placed water sources and a prepared firefighting team kept every small blaze from turning into headline news.

Council races

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The towns of Payson and Star Valley elected new mayors this year -- Bob Edwards, left, and Chuck Heron, right.

When the filing deadline ended in December 2005, a field of candidates for the 2006 election was set. Three competitors emerged for Payson's mayoral race: Jon Barber, Barbara Brewer and Bob Edwards. Eight candidates, including one incumbent, entered the town council race. Ed Blair, Su Connell, Rick Croy, Robert Henley (incumbent), Diane Sexton, Charlie Smith, Barbara Underwood and Mike Vogel vied for three open seats. In Star Valley, seven candidates, including the mayor's post, ran unopposed. They included Chuck Heron, Bill Heath, Mary Ann Kotelnicki, Art Lloyd, Delbert Newland , Bill Rappaport and Randy White.

A candidate forum held in the Payson High School auditorium during the primary race drew a record 750 spectators.

Throughout the election, the populace polarized into two camps based on growth versus managed growth platforms.

When the run-off ended in May, Payson had a new mayor, Bob Edwards, and three council members -- Su Connell, Mike Vogel and Ed Blair. Earlier that month, the council appointed Andy Romance to fill the empty seat of George Barriger who resigned from the council for personal reasons. Councilor Tim Fruth received unanimous approval among his colleagues to serve as vice mayor.

When the results were tallied, a record number of voters turned up at the polls. Sixty-two percent or 5,479 of Payson's 8,828 registered voters participated in the election.

Star Valley name chosen

In 2005, when the push to incorporate Star Valley began, residents involved in the effort called the new town Diamond Star. After all, it was comprised of two communities: Star Valley and Diamond Point Shadows. Then a group of residents implored the Diamond Star Town Council to consider a name change.

That November, the council voted unanimously to ask the Gila County Board of Supervisors to grant the name change. More than 80 percent of the 553 residents who voted approved the name change to preserve the area's historical significance.

Arrazola -- drunken driving accident and trial

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Rigoberto Arrazola

On April 18, 2006, Rigoberto Arrazola, the driver who killed three members of a Payson family in a drunken driving collision, received an 18-year sentence.

The accident happened in July 2005 as the Goddard family returned from a shopping trip to the Valley. Mother Pernilla Pallin-Goddard, 39, and son Simon Berglund, 14, were killed instantly. William Goddard, 13, was transported to the hospital, but died later. Father David Goddard and his daughter, Alexandria, 12, were hospitalized and released.

Arrazola, 31, of Phoenix was charged with second-degree murder, but a grand jury dropped those charges. Instead, Arrazola faced three counts of manslaughter and two counts of aggravated assault for the deaths of and injuries to the Goddard family.

The results of Arrazola's toxicology report revealed a blood alcohol content of .08 -- the legal limit -- at the time of his arrest.

Fire season

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When a wildfire broke out in February, the earliest in history for the area, residents braced themselves for a bad fire season. Thanks to new firebreaks, well-placed water sources and a prepared firefighting team, the summer passed without any headline-making blazes.

• February Fire

A dry fall and winter sparked an early wildfire, the February Fire. It broke out about 6 miles east of Pine and 12 miles north of Payson. When the blaze was contained three weeks later, it had consumed 4,000 acres. More than 100 firefighters showed up to battle the blaze. Investigators concluded that an abandoned campfire sparked the fire.

In late February, the human-caused Horseshoe Fire, although small, consumed 7 acres in the Promontory Butte near Horton Creek.

Forest officials considered a forestwide closure until drought conditions changed. To alleviate the potential for other fires, fire restrictions prohibited firearm use, petroleum-fueled lanterns, stoves and heating devices, and campfires except in developed campgrounds. Spring and summer precipitation lowered the threat of wildfire.

• Firebreak

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Water storage "pumpkins" were distributed in key locations around Gila County to help with firefighting efforts.

Throughout the spring and summer, firefighters cleared more than 900 acres of dry underbrush and small trees around the communities of Payson, Star Valley and Pine/Strawberry.

The county gave each community $50,000 to complete the project. Other federal, state and private funds helped provide additional funding. The fuel break spanned 100 yards. Payson's fuel break was so successful that it's been incorporated into a trails master plan as an urban greenway.

School bond election

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Money from a school bond passed in November will repair school facilities such as this rusting door at Julia Randall Elementary that students pass every day.

Voters passed a $33 million school bond in November to repair aging and deteriorating buildings in the Payson Unified School District. The bond extends the life of capital improvement bonds that were used years ago to build Frontier Elementary School and Wilson Dome.

Julia Randall Elementary School will receive more than $20 million in upgrades including a two-story classroom building, enlarged student drop-off and pick-up areas, and fencing.

The school board and architectural planners decided to leave the original rock building, erected in 1935, intact to preserve its historical significance.

Rim Country Middle School will receive about $7.5 million to enclose walkways that connect the three academic wings, a new band and choral room, more space for administration and the library, and a technical lab.

More than $1 million will go toward the installation of artificial turf and a landscaped student mall and a new plaza.

Fossil Creek Restoration Project

The Fossil Creek Restoration Project that began in earnest in 2004 continued as biologists monitored native fish populations and controlled the proliferation of non-native species.

Earlier this year, a team of biologists removed native fish from Stehr Lake, a pond located north of Pine near Fossil Creek. The pond was treated with rotenone to kill off exotic fish. Game and Fish officials closed the lake to allow fish populations to reproduce and thrive. Once populations stabilize, Fossil Springs could become one of the most productive fishing spots in the nation.

APS turned on the Childs-Irving Power Plant -- constructed in the early 20th century -- for the final time in June 2005. Deconstruction efforts have continued through 2006 and by 2009, the power plant will be completely gone.

In July, Rep. Rick Renzi and Sen. John McCain introduced a bill to designate Fossil Creek in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. This classification will protect the free-flowing condition of Fossil Creek from the construction of dams and development.

Only 165 rivers in the United States have been protected under this legislation. In Arizona, the Verde River represents the only protected waterway under this legislation.

Researchers at Northern Arizona University have produced a documentary about the project titled, "A River Reborn: The Restoration of Fossil Creek."

It debuts Jan. 14 at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix.

Harold Fish verdict

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Harold Fish was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the shooting death of Grant Kuenzli.

In June, two years after a shooting on a trail near

Strawberry left one man dead, a jury found the shooter, Harold Fish, guilty of second-degree murder.

A month-and-a-half later, Fish was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his crime. Throughout the trial, which began in April, Fish maintained a self-defense stance.

The 59-year-old retired schoolteacher and father of seven received a mitigated minimum sentence for the shooting death of Grant Kuenzli. If given the full sentence, Fish could have served up to 22 years.

NBC's "Dateline" followed the case. Their coverage aired in the fall.

Gila County forms meth coalition

In February, Gila County joined Gov. Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Terry Goddard's fight against the manufacture and use of methamphetamines when it formed a meth coalition.

A seven-person panel joined forces during "A Call to Action," a statewide meth conference.

The coalition serves as a watchdog group to push the legislature to pass laws that protect citizens from dangerous meth labs, including laws that regulate the sale of over-the-counter cold medications that contain pseudoephedrine.

The coalition's other responsibilities include the securing of grant money for an anti-meth plan; the implementation of prevention strategies; and the recruitment of community members.

GC coalition members are: Romona Cameron, Department of Economic Security; Catherine Corso, Gila County Meth Education Committee; Steve Craig, Commander Gila County Narcotics Task Force; Claudia DalMolin, Gila County Sheriff's Office; Max Foster, the Payson Roundup; Tim Fruth, Payson High School and Payson Town Council; and Jimmy Oestmann, Arizona Department of Public Safety, GCNTF.

Rim Country's meth crisis is creating urban problems in this small community. Theft, child neglect and other crimes are on the rise. In 2006, the Payson Police Department issued 32 search warrants for drug-related offenses. Seven children under the age of 10 tested positive for meth and the Gila County Drug Task Force collected 547 grams of the drug.

Task forces

Soon after taking office, Mayor Bob Edwards delegated town priorities, such as water, streets and affordable housing, to several newly formed task forces, mostly comprised of residents of Payson. He asked them to gather information and present solutions to the council.

Since June, 19 task forces have been formed, made up of more than 100 volunteers.

Pieper Mansion

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The Sidles mud house was built in 1879.

Phoenix landowner Greg Turturro purchased the historic Pieper Mansion property and the adjacent Sidles mud house this past spring. Turturro bought the 36,000-square-foot parcel for $235,000. He cleaned up the property, sold part of the land and put the historic homes back on the market four months later for $788,000.

The Sidles mud house is of particular historical significance -- it's possibly the oldest standing structure in Payson. Grassroots efforts among historical interest groups are making strides to raise money to save both properties, including an adjacent collection of vacation cabins. The Pieper property is still up for sale.

New radio station on air

Local musicians and community activists, John and Lu Carpino hit the airwaves in June with their live show on the newly formed community radio station 98.5 KCMA.

The station came together after Payson's Classical Music Association, a nonprofit group, procured the license for the radio station. Support from the organization's board members, Cindy and Andy Kofile, who own Arizona Spectrum Wireless, and Tom and Chris Spencer, helped the new station get off the ground and broadcast from a small trailer on McLane Road.

The Payson Roundup joined the station several months later to provide news programming.

Peggy Miles

The Payson school board voted not to renew Julia Randall Elementary School principal Peggy Miles' contract for the 2006-2007 school year.

The public backlash was fierce. Parents and teachers who supported Miles were outraged, and students protested.

Robert Varner, a 44-year-old Phoenix educator, replaced Miles in May.

Marijuana raids

The Gila County Narcotics Task Force, Department of Public Safety and several other law enforcement agencies torched more than 104,000 pounds of marijuana plants with a street value of $52,307,205 in the summer of 2006. The pot was discovered and destroyed during 21 raids throughout the Rim Country in the spring and summer.

Manzanita Sports fire

A two-alarm fire gutted Payson's Manzanita Adventure Sports in July. Although the building was empty, the fire wiped out owner Devin Wala's entire inventory. A power strip that connected a telephone, a laptop computer and other electronic equipment was the source of the fire. The business has not reopened.

Minimum wage increases, smoking ban passes

Nineteen propositions drew voters to the polls this year in record numbers. Gila County Elections Supervisor Dixie Mundy said the local turnout on Election Day was 57.3 percent. Statewide, voters passed an increase in the minimum wage and voted to ban smoking in restaurants and bars.

Two art galleries open on Main Street

Culture hit Main Street when two artist co-ops opened along the historic town artery. Artists of the Rim, located at 408 W. Main St. and spearheaded by Glenda Roark, opened in August. The original lineup featured 22 local artists, covering nearly every genre and style. In December, Down the Street Art Gallery, highlighting the work of 11 artists, opened to the public. Artists Dan Basinski and Minette Hart-Richardson spearheaded the venue, located at 703 W. Main St.

Star Valley celebrates one-year anniversary

The Town of Star Valley celebrated its one-year anniversary Oct. 31 with a gathering of community members, elected officials -- former and present -- and supporters.

Water found in Pine

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Ray Pugel, Mike Ploughe and Robert Randall

Evidence that groundwater exists in Pine turned up Sept. 25 when a well drilled in a 6-acre field began producing water. The well, owned by Ray Pugel and Robert Randall, produced more than 245,000 gallons of groundwater in a 24 hour test, and within 30 minutes, the well recovered to 95 percent of its pre-pumping level.

Alternate route progress

The Rim Country's long-considered alternate route inched forward in mid-December when the Payson Town Council adopted a resolution to conduct a feasibility study. The study, paid for by the Arizona Department of Transportation, is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2007. Preliminary plans include the redirecting of vehicles from the traffic jams of highways 87 and 260. The bypass will begin miles south of Mazatzal Casino and end east of Star Valley on Highway 260.

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