Forest Service Must Honor Its Contract

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So, imagine you need to figure out how much tax you owe the federal government. You go to the Internal Revenue Service and offer them a heck of a deal. If they will pay for a consultant and maybe an extra IRS auditor to double check the work of the consultant, you promise to pay up by April 15.

So April 15 comes and goes. Nine months pass, but tell the fuming fellows at the IRS that you’re still not sure when you’ll finish. After all, maybe Congress will make more stuff deductible. Shouldn’t you wait and see?

Do you think the IRS would mind?

Now shuffle things just a bit and you can begin to appreciate the position Payson finds itself in as it searches frantically for some way to make the U.S. Forest Service honor its contract.

Nearly two years ago, Payson put up some $600,000 to hire consultants to prepare an environmental assessment of the Blue Ridge pipeline route, which will run for some 15 miles along Houston Mesa Road and the East Verde River. Payson even came up with an extra $160,000 so the Forest Service could hire extra people to ride herd on the consultants.

The town’s contract with the Forest Service allowed nearly a year to complete the study, with a deadline for completion of October 2010.

The town subsequently agreed to an extension into January, after the consultants found a couple of minor complications.

The consultants produced a rough draft of the assessment in January, which reveals no big problems with either endangered species or archaeological sites.

So far so good.

The town still had time to meet the deadlines included in a $10.5 million federal stimulus grant — and get the pipeline done by 2013 or 2014. The Payson Town Council feels so encouraged it orders most of the pipe.

January comes and goes.

Next thing you know, most of the top administrators in the Payson Ranger District and the Tonto National Forest move on to other jobs.

Suddenly, everything grinds to a halt.

Suddenly, new Forest Service officials can’t decide where the town should put the $7 million water treatment plant.

Next, Forest Service biologists wonder whether the consultants ought to go back and study the potential impact of the project on some additional plants and animals. Mind you, these new critters are not on the federal list of threatened or endangered species. The consultants already concluded the project won’t harm any actually listed species.

Nope. These extra species might possibly maybe be added to the list by the time the town finishes the pipeline. So maybe we ought to hold everything up for another couple of months to study the impact on these might-maybe-be threatened species.

At this point, someone needs to cue the “Twilight Zone” theme.

Mind you, we’re talking about a project that would instantly create a host of jobs in a unemployment plagued rural economy — and lay the groundwork for the resumption of growth in a region where the construction industry remains moribund.

Isn’t job growth a federal priority?

Did not President Obama specifically direct all federal agencies to remove any mindless, red-tape barriers to job creation?

What on Earth is wrong with these people?

Such mindless, bureaucratic obstructionism borders on the criminal – and certainly qualifies as incomprehensible.

But we don’t need the Forest Service to solve our problems.

We just need them to get out of the way and honor the contract they signed.

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