Last Friday, after we attended a special Payson Town Council meeting to discuss the possibility of buying a portion of Brooke Utilities that services Star Valley, our first question was, "Why?"
We collected the facts. The utility company includes 305 hookups that are mostly in Star Valley. That small number of hookups won't be a money-maker for anyone, and the system that supports those hookups still runs on 2-inch pipe that hasn't been replaced for decades. Knowing that, we couldn't understand Payson's motive.
The decision came about, in what we felt, was a strange way.
Only a week before, during its June 5 meeting, the Star Valley Town Council announced it intended to spend as much as $1 million in the next fiscal year to purchase its own water utility.
The following Monday, June 11, according to Star Valley Mayor Chuck Heron, he met with Mayor Bob Edwards and members of the mayor's water task force to discuss solutions to a years-long battle between the two towns over water.
At that meeting, Heron said, no one from Payson mentioned the possibility of purchasing the water utility that serves Star Valley.
In fact, Heron said he didn't hear about it until Thursday afternoon, after the agenda had been released for a special Payson council meeting to discuss the topic.
We heard about it around the same time -- when the agenda for the meeting was posted.
We recognize that many things happen behind closed doors, but this decision on Payson's part seems to have come out of nowhere, without warning to the public or to Star Valley.
Since Friday's meeting, it seems the starting gun has been fired. The Star Valley council called its own emergency meeting Thursday night to put together a plan to beat Payson in bidding for the utility.
To hear the Payson mayor speak at Friday's special council meeting, this utility purchase was meant to be a peacemaking move -- a solution to the regional water problem in which Payson is taking the lead.
The purchase of the utility, he believes, would erase the political boundaries in the water battle between Payson and Star Valley, because they would both be tied into the same system. Much of the pipe in the Star Valley water utility is only feet from the pipe in Payson's current system and the two would be tied together, if Payson were to successfully make the proposed purchase.
Perhaps it is true that Payson's motives are pure. Perhaps the leadership of Payson sees this purchase as a chance to heal the wounds through a grafting of water pipes. But the sequence of events that led us to this point, does not speak of consensus building.
Star Valley should have been included in the discussion.
Payson sees this purchase as a solution to a regional problem.
Star Valley sees this purchase as an affront to its autonomy.
Payson says Star Valley should not let this become another battleground.
Star Valley wonders if Payson owns the water company under its feet, if they will now have to ask Payson's permission in order to grow.
As with much of the water problems in the past, this seems like a classic and dangerous case of a complete lack of communication.
As the Payson's water task force chair, Lynn Godfrey, is fond of saying, "This is not about water."
It is about perception.
Before the Payson Town Council goes forward with this purchase, a lot more questions need to be answered and many more conversations must be had. Star Valley cannot be dragged kicking and screaming into this partnership.