Stuck Within The Bureaucracy

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Where is Joseph Heller when you need him? We need the satiric author of “Catch 22” to capture the absurd ironies of this week’s congressional subcommittee hearing focused on which federal agency is in charge of the Blue Ridge pipeline.

In Heller’s painfully funny book about World War II, bomber pilots who went crazy could ask to be grounded. However, if they were sane enough to try to get out of near-suicidal missions, they obviously weren’t crazy —and couldn’t be grounded: Catch 22.

A similar mentality has already cost Payson and the Salt River Project months in their efforts to repair 10 miles of pipeline atop the Rim and then build another 10 miles of pipeline between Washington Park and Payson.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is in charge of the construction — but the Forest Service controls the land. As a result, Payson must constantly seek permission from two different bureaucracies to undertake a single task. Sometimes, project managers must wait months for even routine permission to proceed.

SRP and Payson have spent years seeking a solution. It makes no sense that SRP needs permission in triplicate from both Reclamation and the Forest Service every time it works on the pipe.

Payson Mayor Kenny Evans, in testimony before Congress this week, offered a dozen examples of mindless delays — sometimes stretching for three months.

And it gets worse: Payson won $10.5 million in federal stimulus money to help build the pipeline, provided it could spend the money within three years. Now, the delay caused by all this bureaucratic card shuffling by two federal agencies could force Payson to give back money received from a third federal agency.

So how do you escape the clutches of two federal bureaucracies? Simple, get Congress to pass a law telling the Forest Service that the Bureau of Reclamation is in charge.

Really? This requires an Act of Congress?

Deep breath. Calm down.

We know: We should be grateful — and not just to people like Mayor Evans, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick and Sen. John McCain who have lavished time and effort on this project. In truth, we couldn’t afford the pipeline at all without the maddeningly inefficient federal government, which is providing not only grants but cheap, long-term loans.

But here we are — growling and sniffing at the hand that feeds us. Pretty strange: So where is Joseph Heller when you need him.

He who writes the rules need not obey the rules

For just a moment we felt encouraged. The Payson Planning Commission this week took up the No. 1 complaint of businesses in town (those still around town, that is): The sign ordinance.

The planning commission resolved to update the ordinance to accommodate the new electronic signs that allow a business to use one space to communicate many different messages.

The commission approved an overhaul of the rules that would allow electronic signs to change — once every 20 seconds. Reportedly, signs that change more often aren’t safe — since they distract drivers.

All right. Sounds reasonable and we welcome any move toward reasonable when it comes to the sign ordinance.

The town has a hard-nosed history when it comes to the desperate efforts of businesses in this town to lure customers off the highway.

We sit in our shop fronts with our polite little color-approved signs, watching as all those potential customers go streaming past on their way somewhere else — barely noticing our little livelihoods, strung out along the road.

The sign ordinance often has seemed more intent on creating some kind of posh theme park than on keeping businesses afloat — and delays stretching out for months in approving signs have left their scars on the local psyche.

So, cool. Loosen up the sign ordinance. We’re with you, oh keepers of the regulations. And then we read the fine print. So, turns out, the proposed ordinance has one little exception to the 20-second flash rule.

The town can put up any old hot flashing sign it wants. So all the roadside signs advertising assorted special events — like maybe the police-sponsored National Night Out — can flicker along every 3 seconds.

So here’s the thing: If it’s not safe for businesses’ signs to flash at an eye-catching rate — how come the town can give itself permission to imperil those wayward drivers?

And if it isn’t really a safety hazard — how come businesses can’t do it? So — like we said: For a moment there, it seemed like government finally understood that we don’t mind rules — so long as they are both fair and reasonable. Silly us.

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