2005: A Year Of Turmoil And Triumph


The year 2005 was filled with turmoil and triumphs.

As the war over Star Valley water escalated, a new community was born. The earth shook, homes were flooded, new roads went on the drawing board and the roundabout was roundly criticized.

The Payson Unified School District had multiple changes in administration, and the gone, but not forgotten, Zane Grey Cabin was reborn as a replica in Green Valley Park and welcomed by visitors and residents alike.

Here are just a few highlights:


Council decision outrages Star Valley residents

The Payson Town Council approved a letter of assurance that water obtained from a well site at the northeast end of Star Valley will be accepted for the development of a 37-acre parcel behind Payson Town Hall and other properties within town limits.

Mayor Barbara Brewer explained that the letter of assurance requires the developer to prove that the wells do not impact other wells in Star Valley.

Chris and Karen Benjamin, owners of the Sky Run RV Resort, which adjoins the well site, previously submitted a detailed letter outlining their objections. The Benjamins claim that their wells were adversely affected during test pumping at the new site.


3.9 quake shakes up Rim area

Mother nature stretched at 4:37 a.m. Jan 31.

The epicenter of a 3.9 earthquake was about 40 miles north-northeast of Payson, 30 miles from Pine-Strawberry. It was centered 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) beneath the surface in the Chevlon Butte Area near Blue Ridge Reservoir.

A 3.8 magnitude quake occurred in the same region at 3:37 p.m. Friday, Jan 28; and an aftershock with a magnitude of 2.4 was recorded at 6:38 p.m. Friday.

March 2, 2005 a 4.6 earthquake occurred 26 miles southwest of Winslow, Ariz. at a depth of about 3.2 miles below the surface.

"These are fault-related earthquakes," said Dr. David Brumbaugh, director of Northern Arizona University's Arizona Earthquake Information Center. "It's the release of force and stress. A similar sequence happened 16 years ago."

Town council derails public transit

Rejecting a study conducted by Rob Bohannan, transportation planner for Valley-based Lima & Associates, and Amy Ostrander of Denver-based Ostrander Consulting, Inc., the Payson town council voted 5-1 against spending an estimated $110,000 a year for a public transit system backed by the Arizona Department of Transportation.


Humane society getting new home

The Payson Humane Society closed escrow on 2 acres of land immediately behind their present shelter at 812 S. McLane Road March 18.

"We couldn't get started on fund-raising or grants until we had property, because it's hard to say we're going to build somewhere someday, we're just not sure where or when," Kathe Stander, board member and building committee chairperson, said.

The new shelter will consist of more than 10,000 square feet and will cost close to $2 million. All animals will be kept indoors.

"It will be top-of-the-line in terms of soundproofing," Stander said.

Home Depot opens; roundabout doesn't

Home Depot opened Thursday, March 31, but the roundabout that the Arizona Department of Transportation decided was preferable to a traffic signal at Highway 87 and Tyler Parkway was no where near completion.

The Payson Town Council approved a plan to make the 106-foot center of the roundabout a "gateway to Payson" from the north.

The landscape design includes three-foot high metal letters spelling "Payson" and a large elk sculpture. The project will be paid for with private contributions. (The project had been approved by ADOT, that approval revoked and has since be reapproved.)


Bridge to span Tonto Creek

The Transportation Equity Act of 2005 awarded $3 million for a bridge to span Tonto Creek in Tonto Basin but it will be at least 2007 before any work begins.

Many times during the last rainy season the 900 or so people who live on the east side of Tonto Creek, including around 300 school children, were not able to cross the flooded waters. The indirect route is a three-hour, 75-mile trek on Forest Road 60 around the back of Roosevelt Lake.

Two men, Michael Nowlan and Timothy Thibodeau died while trying to cross the creek in their backhoe in January.

College board steps back to EAC

Gila Community College governing board members Mike Pastor (now acting chairman), Bob Ashford and Bernadette Kniffin of the San Carlos Apache tribe turned deaf ears to more than two hours of public testimony, mostly in favor of remaining with Pima Community College.

The college's governing board voted three to two (Larry Stephenson and then Chairman Ron Christensen dissenting) to hand Gila Community College back to Eastern Arizona College.

Five days later, GCC President Barbara Ganz; director of community programs and noncredit classes Sarah Nelson and GCC governing board chairman Ron Christensen tendered their resignations.

Ganz said clauses in the agreement made her position powerless.

Christensen's resignation was brief, and in it, he underscored his stance -- his refusal to accept responsibility for giving EAC a blank check.

Trailhead shooting back in court

Coconino County prosecutors have re-filed second-degree murder charges against the man accused of shooting to death 43-year-old Grant Kuenzli during a confrontation near the Pine Creek Trailhead.

County Attorney Terry Hance filed the complaint March 30 against 57-year-old retired Tolleson schoolteacher Harold Fish.

The case is to be heard at a May 10 preliminary hearing in front of Superior Court Judge Mark Moran.

Hance said prosecutors would prove the shooting was not in self-defense and that Fish should be tried for second-degree murder.

Fish also has claimed that the three dogs with Kuenzli were vicious.

The stated goal of Fish's attorney, Mel McDonald, is to have the charges against his client dismissed at the hearing.


School chief resigns

Herb Weissenfels was noticeably absent when his resignation as superintendent of the Payson Unified School District was announced at a special meeting on Thursday, May 5. The day before the meeting, Weissenfels cleared his office of all his personal belongings and vacated the building. Weissenfels had been under fire for several weeks, partly for the district's failure to report a positive drug test on a school bus driver.

Group tackles feral cat dilemma

Lisa Boyle estimates there are "thousands" of feral cats in the Rim Country, but Payson Friends of Ferals, a new organization affiliated with the Payson Humane Society, hopes to reduce this number through nonlethal methods. Boyle, a member of the PHS board, founded the new group, which plans to begin operation June 1.

Pine Water has one year to avoid full moratorium

The Pine Water Company has been given a year of grace before a full moratorium on new hookups is imposed. The Arizona Corporation Commission decided to grant the company that much time to find a new source of water or another solution to the chronic shortages Pine residents have suffered.

High school principal steps in

Payson High School Principal Sue Myers was appointed to replace Herb Weissenfels as superintendent of the Payson Unified School District.

‘Give us our own town,' Star Valley residents say

The Diamond Star Water Coalition, a group formed to protect Star Valley and Diamond Point Shadows' water from the town of Payson and developers, presented a petition for incorporation to the town, bearing the signatures of 358 registered voters.

Town agrees to let preacher use park

Dan Green, a preacher denied use of Rumsey Park by the Payson Town Council, will hold his anti-drug movie nights there after all, following a reversal of the council's decision.


Beeline roundabout confusing for some

Drivers are not adapting to the newly opened roundabout at The Home Depot, jokingly referred to by some locals as the "runaround."

"We're having a problem with people on Highway 87 not obeying the traffic signs where they say ‘Yield,'" Public Works Engineer LaRon Garrett said. "They're blowing right through those ‘Yield' signs and that's going to cause an accident."

Police kicked out of park

Payson police sergeants Donny Garvin and Rod Mamero have been told by the town to vacate their homes in Rumsey Park, ending a practice that began in the 1970s. The town has decided the extra security provided by two officers living in the park does not outweigh the negatives.

Zane Fire threatens Rim Country

The Zane Fire, which erupted 13 miles northeast of Payson, prompted evacuation of the Zane Grey Cabins, the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery, Mead's Ranch and the Baptist Camp.

Town salaries rival big city pay

Taxpayers will foot the bill for town employee pay raises comparable to those found in larger, wealthier communities when the budget takes effect July 1. At that time, several town employees will be making over $100,000 per year.


Cave Creek Complex holding at Rim Country's door

Beleaguered residents of Pine and Strawberry finally received some good news -- the progression of the Cave Creek Complex Fire has stopped at its northern flank, at least for the time being. The two smoke-choked communities were under a pre-evacuation alert.

Pioneer past tops historic register

Two Rim Country landmarks -- the Strawberry School and the Pine Community Center -- joined the Ox Bow Hotel on the National Register of Historic Places.

Water saving mandated by state

The Arizona Corporation Commission ordered the Payson Water Company, owned by Brooke Utilities, to implement conservation measures in the communities it services. The company was instructed to install color-coded signs at the entrances to those communities to alert residents of the conservation level status.

Fire closes Beeline

Highway 87 was closed this morning after the Edge Complex Fire jumped the road and turned west toward Sunflower. The fire, which reached 38,000 acres, forced evacuation of several Tonto Basin communities.


Diamond Star Water Coalition says ‘no deal'

A meeting between the Diamond Star Water Coalition and town of Payson officials over the town's desire to fuel its growth with Diamond Star water ended with no solutions or compromises.

"The concession they want is water from us, and I don't think that we would be able to make any deal," coalition member Chris Benjamin said.

More property taxes looming

The nationwide housing boom has led to an average 2.78 percent increase in assessed valuation in Gila County, so most homeowners will be paying more in property taxes.

Town will pay $750K for Star Valley water

Nearly 300 concerned Rim Country residents attended the town council meeting or stood outside in the parking lot as that body voted to pay $750,000 to Roy Haught and George Randall for water it intends to take out of Star Valley. Only three of the dissenters were allowed to address the council.


Feral cat attacks

A suspected feral cat attacks and injures 80-year-old Larry Lantagne. The animal tore a vein in Lantagne's leg. The animal was trapped and euthanized.

Bully rules adopted

The Payson Unified School District adopts the state's new bully laws, implementing stiffer punishments like expulsion and arrest for students who pick on and start fights with others.

Payson has top teacher

Payson High School teacher Anna Van Zile is recognized as Arizona's top teacher in rural schools, which earns her a ride in the Fiesta Bowl parade.


Inmates, goats part of fire fighting effort

Goats and inmates start working to clear property filled with dry plant debris as part of an ambitious fuel reduction program to reduce the risk of wildfire in Pine and Strawberry.

Five stores burglarized

Burglars burrow their way through five stores in the Payson Village Shopping Center, stealing more than $10,000 worth of cash and jewelry from Payson Jewelers. The thieves succeeded in the burglary by moving close to the ground, avoiding alarm triggers.

Airport expansion starts

The town prepares for new thoroughfare near the airport by clearing and burning parts of the land around the proposed development. The Federal Aviation Administration is funding most of the street improvement.

Cabin opening draws big crowd

Zane Grey fans and history buffs lined up during the grand opening ceremonies Oct. 16 of the writer's replicated cabin in Green Valley Park. Visitors waited for hours to view the cabin's interior.


Man-caused blaze destroys more forest

The Promontory Fire, which has burned hundreds of acres near Christopher Creek, continues to burn in a densely forested area of the Rim. Fire officials said a hunter caused the blaze.

Suspected drug dealer caught

Police apprehend Kevin Thomas Krauss, suspected of dealing methamphetamine to juvenile girls in Payson and Pine, after a routine traffic stop. Krauss had eluded officers for six weeks.

Youngsters quilt with love

Kindergartners from Payson Elementary School created a quilt for former PES student, Brian Langeliers, now a Marine serving in Afghanistan.

Plane crash below the Rim

Pilot Brian Rutkowski survives plane crash after his single-engine plane slammed into an area in Tonto National Forest, just northeast of Payson. Rutkowski said the aircraft sputtered and stalled, losing pressure and altitude, and striking trees before impact.

A new town in Rim Country

Diamond Star's first administration is sworn in after the Gila County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Nov. 1 to approve the town east of Payson. The new council includes William Heath, Mayor Ronnie McDaniel, Chuck Heron, Mary Ann Kotelnicki, Ted Pettet, Art Lloyd and Vice Mayor Randy White.


Construction drives economy

Payson's construction industry drives the late-year economy. Nineteen percent of the sales tax collected in Payson is derived from the building industry.

Suit filed against new town

Longtime Payson residents George Randall and Roy Haught, developing firm Terra Star Valley 40 and other parties, filed a lawsuit against Diamond Star, challenging the municipality's rights to incorporate.

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