East Verde Gushes, Opportunity Beckons

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Once again, a gush of opportunity is gushing down the East Verde River.

The Salt River Project has opened the valves on the Blue Ridge pipeline, releasing a rush of water into the river.

SRP will release some 12,000 acre-feet into the river between now and the return of winter to the Rim in October or November, converting the lazy little creek into one of the state’s best trout streams — and a sure-fire tourist draw.

And just as you shouldn’t waste water — local officials shouldn’t waste this gleam of opportunity.

SRP will release Blue Ridge water into the East Verde for years to come, creating in Payson’s back yard a creek to rival Oak Creek or Tonto Creek.

Alas, the creek remains dangerously neglected, with few attempts to contain the crowds of weekend visitors and ensure a safe environment — for visitors and local residents.

Managed properly, the East Verde can serve as an anchor for the scenic, outdoor, family-oriented adventures on which our tourist-dependent economy relies.

Left to the mercies of the relative handful of irresponsible, beer-drinking idiots who scatter trash and abandon campfires, the flush of visitors poses a danger to the forested subdivisions whose wells draw water from that same water table.

So we hope you’ll savor one of Arizona’s treasures during the peaceful weekdays and keep an eye on the yahoos on the weekends — and that Forest Service, Payson and county officials will cooperate to ensure proper management of this precious treasure.

Government earns its bad reputation

Politicians and bureaucrats get a bad rap.

Mostly, that’s because they so richly deserve it.

Just consider the strange history so far of Payson’s college campus.

Again and again, the very people who should have moved heaven and earth to build the campus have instead nearly killed it.

Only the heroic efforts of people like Payson Mayor Kenny Evans have kept the project alive, like a runner whose teammates have inexplicably strewn the track with broken glass.

To understand the bizarre reaction of the governor, the Legislature, the Forest Service and maybe even Arizona State University to Evans’ proposal — step back a minute and look at the big picture.

Arizona has a huge problem: The economy is stalled, tax revenues have plunged, university tuition has doubled and we need to double the number of college degrees awarded in the next few years to get back on track.

Along comes Payson with a seemingly irresistible offer. We’ll raise $500 million in loans and gifts and build a 6,000-student, high-tech campus so ASU can offer college degrees for half the cost of its other campuses.

No need for the state to put up the money and ASU will retain full control over every detail of the academic program.

Moreover, the project will yield hundreds of construction jobs and then hundreds of good, long-term jobs in a rural community struggling with high unemployment.

Talk about your stimulus — who could object?

But what’s the response of the state and the feds?

Arizona State University dithers for two years. Oh. Gosh. Maybe voters won’t approve the sales tax. Oh. Gee. Maybe the Legislature will cut the budget. Oh. My. Better do a marketing study. The weeks turn into months, which turn into years — challenging backers to keep in place the pledge of hundreds of millions at historically low interest rates.

Meanwhile, the Forest Service decides it’ll take another year or two to sell land that Congress earmarked as surplus a decade ago. Bottom line: It’ll take the Forest Service a year or more to do what a private seller could do in a month.

So what’s next?

Oh, how about a surprise veto by a clueless governor of a technical bill to facilitate the project? The blindside veto likely won’t kill the project — but it will boost the interest rate on the money from 3 percent to 5 percent. That will add about $2,000 per student to the ultimate cost.

So at every turn, backers have found themselves frustrated by the very state and federal agencies whose policies call for just such a project.

So you have to ask yourself: Is the frustration so many people feel with their government a bad rap or just an accurate description?

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