County Must Not Abandon Its Residents

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Seems like the politics of water are always muddy.

Still, one thing seems clear when the topic turns to the plight of 15 small communities with a right to Blue Ridge water.

Gila County has abandoned its citizens.

And that means it’s time for supervisors Shirley Dawson and Tommie Martin to patch up their long-running quarrel enough to serve voters who have a right to expect their help.

Today we have launched a series of articles on whether small communities in Gila County can secure their future by winning a share of the 500 acre-feet of Blue Ridge water reserved for them under federal law.

Although Payson has secured its 3,000-acre-foot share and for nearly a year advertised its willingness to accommodate the needs of communities along the pipeline route, almost nothing has been done.

And that’s mostly the fault of Gila County — which has an obligation to provide basic services when it approves subdivisions in unincorporated territory.

In order to secure a share of that water, each of those 15 communities must cut a deal with both the Salt River Project and with Payson. Unfortunately, few have the legal and political expertise to pull that off.

Brooke Utilities is the one entity currently positioned to negotiate for that right, but that private company has a strained history with many of its customers. Moreover, the prospect of assigning a public water right worth millions of dollars to a private company raises all sorts of questions.

Some communities fumbled for a solution — including Whispering Pines, which has formed a water improvement district. But even that approach seems fraught with confusing legal questions.

Clearly, Gila County should provide consistent and detailed assistance for each of those 15 communities — including perhaps establishing a community facilities district to hold the water right and finance the infrastructure needed to connect to the pipeline — with the support of the property owners.

Instead, a dispute between Dawson and Martin prompted the county to curtail the very limited assistance it had been providing, mostly in the form of free advice from consultant Harry Jones.

We believe that in approving subdivisions in the middle of the forest, the county incurred a legal and moral obligation to provide all possible assistance to provide basic public services — including water. That means the county can’t walk away just when those communities has a fleeting chance to secure their water future.

Payson cannot and should not shoulder the burden — since its primary obligation remains to its own residents.

SRP cannot take on the task, since its loyalty remains with its customers in the Valley. Indeed, the mammoth utility could benefit from the confusion and disorganization of those local communities. Moreover, SRP has its own agenda when it comes to the use of water by communities along the East Verde — so it can hardly safeguard their interests.

That leaves only Gila County, with both the obligation and the expertise to intervene now to secure their water futures.

We hope the supervisors will act accordingly.

And if they don’t, that the voters will remember.

The real terrorists taking to the road

Never mind the shoe bombers The plane hijackers. The bomb throwers.

The real terrorists will be on the road tonight, looking for another victim to add to the 12,000 Americans they’ve killed in the past year.

We’re talking about drunk drivers and those on drugs, of course — as we head toward their own little national holiday: New Year’s Eve. Police will pull overtime shifts to man the drunk driving checkpoints this week — peaking on the last night of the year.

We hope they catch a bumper crop — since every drunk driver nabbed, jailed — and maybe even treated, increases the odds the rest of us will make it home safely.

So just don’t do it. Not even one drink if you are going to drive. Why take the chance?

And if you see someone about to climb into their car, think of the innocent people they may kill on their way home and either take away their keys or call the police immediately.

And if you ignore this advice —we sure hope you get a chance to visit with those nice cops at the checkpoint down the road.

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