Star Valley Pursues Buying Wells From Payson

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With Blue Ridge water too expensive, Star Valley shifted its focus Tuesday to buying three groundwater wells from Payson. The agreement would also limit the pumping of the controversial Tower Well, which provoked the incorporation of the town.

The wells won’t solve all of the town’s water concerns, especially since it has no way of distributing water from the wells to homeowners, however, buying the wells represents “an important first step to sustainable water and a backup water supply,” said Town Manager/Attorney Tim Grier.

Not everyone on the town council supported the idea and some said it was a waste of taxpayers’ money.

However, Mayor Bill Rappaport said the town must step up and do something to protect its water supply.

The town has been messing around with this for too long, he said.

When the water went out in Rappaport’s home and that of his neighbors in The Knolls subdivision for two days recently, Rappaport said he took the heat when no one could reach anyone at Brooke Utilities.

Frustrated, Rappaport said he never wants to be in that position again.

With the three wells from Payson, Star Valley has a chance to back up its water supply if Brooke Utilities fails to deliver water to the 300 customers in town. The rest of the town gets its water from private wells. The wells would allow the town to pump water into trucks and bring it to residents in the event of a water shortage, Rappaport said.

“You can’t do that,” said several councilors because even if Star Valley owned the wells, it could not distribute water within Brooke’s Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CC&N), which legally prevents anyone but Brooke from distributing water.

“Then let them sue us,” Rappaport said.

Councilor Gary Coon expressed strong objections to purchasing the three wells, which last year Payson agreed to sell at just under $100,000. The agreement also prevents Payson from ever pumping more than 830 acre-feet annually from the Tower Well and limits how much Star Valley could pump from the three wells.

Two of the wells, PW-1 and PW-2, are landlocked by Chris Benjamin’s property and the forest boundary. Even if Star Valley bought the wells, it could not get any water out, Coon said.

In a telephone interview, Benjamin said Star Valley has yet to contact him about crossing his property to access the wells.

When Payson bought the wells initially, Benjamin blocked Payson from creating an easement across his property in court.

“This is like reliving an old situation,” he said. Benjamin would not say if he would let Star Valley cross his property today.

Star Valley’s Water Attorney Karen Nally said the town does have the option of pursuing condemnation and taking the property from Benjamin. Coon and Councilor George Binney said they would never stand behind this and neither would the town.

Councilor Vern Leis said there may be a way to get the water out through the Forest Service, but would not elaborate.

If the town could get water off site, Coon asked how they would distribute it given Brooke’s CC&N.

Nally said although the town could not currently get water off site, in the future they might be able to. For example, if Benjamin moved.

“I don’t think we should buy thinking one day we could use it,” Coon said. “That is pie in the sky thinking.”

Coon said the town should pursue buying other wells not landlocked and possibly even drilling its own well. Two wells owned by the Arizona Department of Transportation may be for sale once crews finish using them, Leis said.

However it pursues getting water, the town needs to look to the future and get prepared, Leis said.

With no water supply of its own, no way to provide water to fire hydrants and the possibility of wells becoming contaminated, securing a water source for the town is the first step in developing a plan.

“I think it would make residents happy to see us do something,” said Councilor Paty Henderson.

“This is the only way to protect ourselves,” said Vice Mayor Del Newland.

Councilor Barbara Hartwell agreed securing water for fire hydrants was vital.

Star Valley had hoped to apply for some Blue Ridge water and use it for fire hydrants, but because the town is not a water purveyor, it does not qualify.

Nally said she heard Brooke was applying for an allocation of the water, but could not know for sure due to a nondisclosure agreement.

During a meeting with Brooke Utilities President Bob Hardcastle, Leis and Grier, Hardcastle reportedly asked Star Valley for financial support if Brooke was given an allocation from Blue Ridge.

Grier said although Hardcastle has been a good water purveyor to those in Star Valley, if he does fail to provide water, the community will think it is the town’s responsibility.

Purchasing the three wells may be the town’s first move in preventing this.

“The expense of Blue Ridge water became a concern coupled with the restriction of Brooke Utilities CC&Ns, which would legally stop Star Valley from providing water to most customers,” Grier said.

“The present ambition to purchase the wells is not to become a water purveyors… the groundwater wells may be a less expensive water supply that can be used as a backup if Hardcastle/ Brooke Utilities fails to perform.”

While Coon said he supported the town getting wells, he said he could not support buying the two landlocked wells.

“It looks like we are buying some wells and letting them sit,” he said.

Payson has already failed to find a way to get water off the property and Star Valley has no better chance, Coon said.

“We don’t have to buy it just because we don’t have an alternative,” he said.

“This is not the answer.”

If the town did find a way to move water from the wells off site, the only place it could currently distribute water would be the area of Diamond Point, which is outside of Brooke’s area.

Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch said buying the wells without a distribution system is useless.

I think “you are trying to provide service without a foundation,” he said.

After lengthy discussions, the council instructed Grier to go ahead with negotiations for the three wells.

Before any deal is complete, however, the council will need to give its approval.

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