Payson Milestone: Council Orders Pipe

Town approves purchase of $1.8 million worth of bargain pipe to deliver Blue Ridge water

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Gosh. Maybe they’ll build it after all.

The Payson Town Council last week took a concrete step to make a 30-year dream a reality when it approved purchase of $1.8 million worth of 36-inch water pipe to build the Blue Ridge pipeline.

“This is a milestone for us,” said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans.

“In the past year, we’ve made more progress than in the last 30 years,” declared a happy LaRon Garrett, the town’s public works director.

The town will use a portion of a $10.5 million federal stimulus grant to buy the bulk of the pipe it needs to bring the water from Washington Park to the proposed water treatment plant just off Houston Mesa Road.

Originally, the town’s engineers figured the pipe would cost $3 million.

But that was before the global recession reduced the world demand for things like iron pipes.

So by the time the Forest Service finally approved the environmental assessment of the 15-mile-long pipeline route, the cost had fallen by a third. The town got four bids for the ductile iron pipe, ranging from $1.8 million to $2 million.

Dana Kepner submitted the low bid, which included a promise to order the pipe and store it in Phoenix for prompt delivery when Payson actually starts construction on the roughly $30 million pipeline.

The town will use a chunk of the federal stimulus grant to buy the pipe. The grant also includes about $5 million in low-cost, long-term loans help offset the cost of the pipeline.

Evans said spending the federal money on the pipe will finally give him something to say the next time the federal grant regulators call to see if the town has spent the money yet — since the whole point of the stimulus grants handed out nearly two years ago was to spur the creation of jobs to help the country emerge from the recession.

“We can finally take a deep breath and get the regulators off our backs,” said Evans. “I know it stretches the imagination to call this ‘shovel ready.’ But then, we were ready — even if the Forest Service wasn’t.”

The town footed the cost of an environmental assessment of the proposed pipeline route. That report concluded in February that the pipe buried alongside Houston Mesa Road would pose no danger to archeological sites, endangered species or the health of the East Verde River.

The town is still waiting for the Forest Service to issue a final approval of the pipeline route and the site of the water treatment plant. As a result, the town can’t yet order some of the pipe sections, particularly the high-pressure pipes at the bottom of the long, downhill run from Washington Park, before the Blue Ridge water enters the water treatment and filtration plant.

The location of that plant remains the most controversial element of the long-awaited pipeline. Payson originally wanted to put the $7 million treatment plant just off Houston Mesa Road near the Shoofly ruins.

However, the Forest Service rating system gave higher marks to a 10-acre site right over the back fence of a row of houses in Mesa del Caballo.

Some of those homeowners have appealed to the town council to shift the treatment plant further away from the existing subdivision. However, the Forest Service regulations give preference to that site over the other six possible sites, all of which are completely surrounded by Forest Service land. Generally, Forest Service policy discourages any land sale or swap that would create an inholding — an island of private land surrounded by Forest Service land.

Once the Forest Service approves a site for the water treatment plant, the town can order the rest of the pipe.

Town officials say they’ll run tests of the Blue Ridge water in Washington Park this fall, to figure out how to best mix it with the mineral laden water pumped out of the town’s wells. If all goes well, construction on the actual pipeline will probably start in about a year, with the delivery of water within two years of the start of construction. The Blue Ridge Pipeline will ultimately carry an annual average of 3,500 acre-feet, including 3,000 acre-feet for Payson and 500 acre-feet reserved for other northern Gila County communities. Payson’s allotment will more than double its long-term water supply and should provide enough water to support the current planned build-out population of maybe 38,000.

The town labored for 30 years to secure its right to the Blue Ridge water.

Prior to locking in that water right, Payson had the toughest restrictions on growth in the state in response to rapidly falling well levels.

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