The Star Valley Town Council Tuesday officially dove into the water business.
The council agreed to buy three groundwater wells from Payson and renew efforts to negotiate a deal to buy a local water company.
Calling the impact of the votes “immeasurable,” Town Manager/Attorney Tim Grier said the council’s actions were the most important steps it has taken toward shoring up a troubled relationship with Payson and securing a long-term water supply for residents.
If the Payson council approves the contract, the three wells would give Star Valley access to several hundred acre-feet of water a year. Provided Star Valley can swing a deal to purchase the Payson Water Company from Brooke Utilities, the town could then become a water purveyor to residents. Then it would also have a way to distribute that water.
Moreover, buying the three wells for $82,000 will help put an end to an at-times acrimonious relationship between the two towns and foster a new era of cooperation.
“I think the IGA (Intergovernmental Agreement) is important in that it creates a real working relationship between us and the Town of Payson because together we can do a substantial amount more than what we can just as Star Valley,” said Councilor Vern Leis.
The towns also recently partnered to create a Separate Legal Entity that will oversee construction and operations of a college campus and offshoot businesses.
Grier believes the towns can work together on other projects, with the product of a positive relationship beneficial to all.
“I think this is something that will go a long way,” said Mayor Bill Rappaport, who thanked Payson Mayor Kenny Evans for helping put together the deal.
Evans met with Star Valley in a closed-door executive session.
After two hours, the council emerged with a deal that not only gives Star Valley the three wells, but also guarantees that if Star Valley ever needs additional water, Payson will provide backup water. Payson would install a short pipeline to Star Valley should the town buy the water system, and Payson will sell water as needed to Star Valley.
The IGA does not include a pledge from Payson to limit pumping of the Tower Well.
Initially, Payson said it would not pump more than 530 gallons per minute from the controversial well that spurred the incorporation of Star Valley.
That rate is more than what Payson pumps now during a crisis, but is less than what studies suggest would affect Star Valley’s water table.
After the meeting with Evans, that provision was scratched from the agreement. Also eliminated was a clause limiting Star Valley from drilling any new wells that would affect the Tower and the other three wells.
In addition, the rate at which Star Valley can pump from the wells was increased from 200 to 300 gallons per minute.
Having Payson as a backup water source is a huge plus for Star Valley, Grier said. If Brooke ever failed to provide, this could supply water quickly and easily.
Star Valley cannot distribute any water from Payson without the permission of Brooke Utilities, who currently holds the exclusive rights to deliver water to some 300 residents. In fact, Star Valley can’t do anything with the water from the three wells because it is not a “water purveyor.”
In addition, Star Valley cannot access two of the wells, because they are blocked by a private easement.
And easement owner Chris Benjamin has said he isn’t interested in letting the town through for fear the wells will affect his existing well. The only way the town could access the wells is through condemnation.
Councilor Gary Coon said the town already has lawyers exploring this option. Coon was the only councilor to vote against the IGA with Payson.
“I can’t see buying these wells because down the road we are going to get into a condemnation deal,” he said. “At this point, I cannot support it.”
Councilor George Binney expressed doubt about the use of the wells. “The overall agreement is good as long as we go in with the intent that those three wells will not be used.”
The rest of the council enthusiastically supported the well purchases, especially since Brooke’s president, Robert Hardcastle, recently asked town officials if they were interested in buying the water company.
Just a few years ago, Star Valley tried to buy Payson Water Company, but negotiations with Hardcastle fell through and the town backed out of condemnation plans when it became clear the cost of the system would be too high.
Although Grier won’t divulge how much Hardcastle is asking now, he said the price is potentially affordable. Grier said he doesn’t know why Hardcastle is interested in selling the system now, but the council welcomes the opportunity to negotiate.
Since incorporation, Star Valley has worked to protect its shallow water table, initially from the Tower Well and more recently from Brooke, which some feel has not adequately maintained the Payson Water Company in Star Valley.
Some worry the system could fail and, if that happens, residents will look to town hall for answers even though it is not the “water purveyor.”
Councilor Paty Henderson expressed concern over the current state of repair of the water company and asked Grier to exercise caution in that area when negotiating.
If Star Valley does purchase the water company, it will have the legal right to connect to the three new wells (if it can get through the easement), deliver water and accomplish what it incorporated to do.
“This is what we were elected for and I am for it,” Rappaport said.
“Well I was really shocked” when Hardcastle offered to sell, Leis said. “I think it is a finishing touch to what we just started (with Payson).”
Coon said he also supported buying the water company, although that came as a surprise to other councilors since he frequently acts as the devil’s advocate.
Buying the water company would also mean that the town could negotiate for a share of C.C. Cragin (Blue Ridge) water. The Salt River Project is setting aside 500 acre-feet for small communities from the pipeline. As a water purveyor, Star Valley could claim a stake of that water, but it has to act soon, because other communities like Mesa del Caballo may also go after it.