The Star Valley Town Council dipped into all things water Tuesday night, trying to figure out if it should keep a struggling water task force, bring its water attorney up from the Valley to discuss its stalemated condemnation trial and if they should keep trying to buy the privately owned water company.
Some council members expressed concern the town was straying away from its original goal of providing water to residents.
“The town itself started because of water and it seems like were straying away from that,” said council member George Binney.
“Now it sounds like there is nothing we can do, but we need a water task force to solve the issues we face. I don’t think we can work with Payson, I don’t trust them because of Buzz Walker,” he added in reference to Payson’s assistant public works director.
Vice Mayor Bill Rappaport said the council must create a group to figure out the water issues and determine what to do next.
“We need a group to do it, because they (Payson) don’t care about us — that we know. We need to watch out for ourselves,” Rappaport said.
Mayor Chuck Heron agreed a group was necessary because the town cannot survive on its existing wells if it plans to develop and grow. Furthermore, even if it received access to the proposed Blue Blue Ridge Pipeline, the town could not distribute the water without a water company.
By the end of the meeting, the council agreed a water committee is needed to figure out the issues, despite the fact that its current water committee has accomplished little that it promised to do.
Star Valley has battled Brooke Utilities for almost two years in an attempt to purchase the Payson Water Company, which serves some 300 residents. The main issue centers around the company’s worth. According to Star Valley’s appraiser, the facility is worth $400,000, but Brooke quickly rejected that offer.
On Aug. 5, the council approved a resolution that allowed contract water attorney Marvin Cohen to file for immediate possession of the water company. After Brooke released discovery documents, the council voted Sept. 3 to reverse that decision and halt the proceedings.
Cohen said the documents released to the town’s appraiser three days before the condemnation court date indicated the water facility servicing Star Valley is newer than the average system owned by Brooke and therefore more valuable.
Chairman of the Water Task Force Committee Chris Benjamin, who played a leading role in the town’s incorporation, said the best way to deal with the issue of water is to bring in two more attorneys to talk about condemnation and other options.
“It might not be a bad idea to invest some money into the town and get some other ideas from other attorneys,” said Councilmember Nathalie Stroup.
Councilor Gary Coon said he had no issue with spending money as long as it was not being thrown away.
Benjamin heads a 12-member task force created in September 2007. The group was assigned to complete six tasks, none of which it has completed Heron said.
Benjamin disputed the mayor’s comments saying the group has worked on five of the six tasks.
These include monitoring the 15 wells within town limits, working with neighboring communities to establish a long-term water solution for the area, providing recommendations to the council and developing and distributing surface water from all sources.
“I don’t know why Heron would say that,” Benjamin said. “I have had multiple meetings with neighboring communities about water.”
Coon said because he and Benjamin are the group’s only two active members, it has been hard to accomplish all of the tasks.
“This town must come up with a plan, not with just 12 of us, but it is going to take everyone,” Benjamin said.
Heron agreed the group is not working.
“It is not that we don’t need it, but the group was assigned to do six tasks, none of those six things have been done,” Heron said. “I would like to disband it.”
Coon said the group could be successful if Benjamin was allowed to attend more meetings.
“It is a waste of time to meet if you deny him access to all of the information,” Coon said. “If you want to point fingers at why it’s not working, it’s not working because he can’t attend the meetings.”
Benjamin said two of the meetings he was denied access to were a water meeting in March 2007 between Payson and Star Valley and an executive session in September between the council and Cohen.
“We requested access and were denied,” Benjamin said.
Heron said Benjamin could not attend the executive session because of municipal law.
“It was only council and the attorney,” Heron said.
As for the meeting in March, Heron said he met with Payson’s former mayor several times, but never made any decisions.
“I have meetings all the time and I don’t take the chairman of the planning and zoning commission with me and at this point I don’t see any water fight, so I am not meeting with anyone to discuss water,” Heron said.
“Being chairman, it does not give him entrée into everything the town does.”
The council agreed they do not want to dissolve the group, but restructure it and bring in new members.
“The tasks it was assigned to do are good, but we need to make it more into a committee,” Stroup said.
The council decided not to vote on the task force until a new resolution is created.
Cohen is scheduled to attend the Oct. 21 council meeting where voters and council can voice their water concerns.
The council voted to send Coon, Benjamin, Binney and the town attorney and manager Tim Grier to the Valley beforehand to speak with Cohen about possible issues.
Also at the meeting, the council approved the three-year reappointment of Steven Salatti, Steve Bingham and Fred Horton to the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Richard Pinkerton and Fred Horton were reappointed to the Roads Commission and Larry Stephenson was added as a seventh member.
Star Valley will also be participating in the seventh annual Cities and Towns week, Oct. 12 through 18.
The week is a time for residents to learn about the services and programs provided by the town and meet the employees who run them.