Payson will enter into final negotiations with Sunrise Engineering to draw up the plans for the $30 million Blue Ridge pipeline, under the terms of an agreement approved last week by the Payson Town Council.
Sunrise submitted the top-rated bid among 15 engineering firms to prepare the “30 percent” plans for the pipeline that will carry 3,500 acre-feet of water annually from Washington Park to the outskirts of Payson.
Such rough preliminary plans allow the town to qualify for federal grants, settle on a final pipeline route and give construction firms enough information to make construction bids, said Public Works Director LaRon Garrett at the council’s Thursday meeting.
Some 53 engineering firms requested copies of the proposal package and 15 turned in bids. Three different town employees reviewed those 15 bids and all ranked Sunrise as No. 1.
“They’ve done very similar projects,” said Garrett. He said the firm recently opened a Payson office.
The council’s approval last week gave the town staff the go-ahead to negotiate a final contract with Sunrise, with two other firms in a backup position if talks fall through with Sunrise. The runners-up were Tetra Tech Engineering and HDR Engineering.
Meanwhile, the consulting firm SWCA, Inc. continues to work on an environmental study of the roughly 15 miles of new pipeline that will generally run along Houston Mesa Road and the East Verde River.
That study will determine whether the town can build the pipeline in a way that won’t have an unacceptable impact on archaeological sites, the East Verde River or endangered species, like the Chiricahua leopard frog, native fish, bald eagles, Mexican garter snakes or others.
“And how’s that going?” asked Councilor Ed Blair.
“We expect we’ll have a ‘no-impact’ finding,” said Garrett.
“No impact?” asked Blair. “We know that already.”
“No impact that can’t be mitigated,” added Garrett.
The pipeline will run right alongside the creek and perhaps cross it in places, depending on the route selected. That raises the potential for affecting the flow of the stream, sedimentation, flooding and other problems.
The pipeline will deliver 3,000 acre-feet annually to Payson and also carry some 500 acre-feet for other Northern Gila County communities. Those other communities would have to strike their own deal with the Salt River Project to gain rights to some of that water and then with Payson to come up with the money to connect spur pipelines to Payson’s pipeline.
The rapid movement toward awarding the engineering contract could set the clock ticking for some of those communities, which could all be strongly affected by the decisions Payson makes about the pipeline.
For instance, Payson’s current plan calls for putting a treatment plant to filter sediment out of the water near the Payson end of the pipeline, perhaps near the Shoofly Ruins off Houston Mesa Road. In that case, any of the communities that tap into the pipeline like Whispering Pines or Mesa del Caballo would have to build separate water treatment facilities.
Other streamside communities, like East Verde Estates and Beaver Valley could potentially take their water in the stream itself, since a pipeline hooked into the main pipe would be very expensive.
Pine and Strawberry could also potentially negotiate for a share of that water, but that would require an expensive spur pipeline that could pump the water uphill — unless those communities found a way to put their share into the headwaters of the now usually-dry Pine Creek.
As Payson moves forward with the engineering, it will close the doors on many of those alternatives for the other communities.
However, only entities that actually sell water can contract for rights to any of that 500 acre-feet. Most of the communities along the pipeline get their water from Brooke Utilities, which has expressed an interest in acquiring those water rights. Some of those communities, like Beaver Valley, have their own small water companies. Earlier this year, Payson landed a $10.5 million federal stimulus grant that dramatically reduced the local cost for the pipeline. The town is spending another $5 million to $10 million in water impact fees it has saved up. The rest of the cost will come from current water users in the form of payments on low-interest-rate, long-term bonds.