Reacting to protests by Mesa del Caballo residents, the U.S. Forest Service has reportedly shifted its attention to a different site for the proposed water treatment plant at the end of Payson’s Blue Ridge pipeline.
The new site still abuts the 400-home subdivision, but on the south end instead of the north end.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans on Thursday asked Tonto National Forest officials to put the shift in priorities in writing.
“We’re already spending money studying the new site, so we’d like to have it in writing right away,” said Evans.
The new site is near the store and gas station at the entrance to the subdivision, but would sit next to fewer homes than the previous proposed site.
Mesa del Caballo residents hope to get water from the Blue Ridge pipeline. That would end chronic water shortages in the unincorporated community, which gets all its water from several declining wells operated by Brooke Utilities.
The Forest Service added the seventh potential site after many Mesa del Caballo residents objected to the preferred site — a heavily wooded, 10-acre parcel just north of the subdivision. Residents objected that the fencing on the plant would cut off their access to the national forest and the 40-foot tall water tank and two-story treatment plant might block their view of the Rim from their back yards.
Payson scrambled to mollify the protestors, saying the parcel slopes downhill so trees would hide the buildings and tanks.
Payson had originally preferred a nearby site on the opposite side of Houston Mesa Road near the Shoofly Ruins because it would be smaller and easier to develop. However, the Forest Service said it would prefer to sell Payson a parcel that would not create an island of private land surrounded by public land.
As a result, the Forest Service criteria gave higher marks to any site adjacent to private land.
Therefore, Payson suggested it would have to put the water filtration plant either just north of the subdivision or at another site next to The Home Depot.
If Payson went with The Home Depot site, then Mesa del residents would have to pay a much higher price to tie into the Blue Ridge pipeline. If they tap into the pipeline downhill from the treatment plant, they would likely get water more cheaply than pumping it out of the ground.
But if they tap into the high pressure line before it enters the treatment plant, they would have to not only pay for a much more expensive connection, but build their own filtration system.
However, several Mesa del residents first protested the selection of the 10-acre site to the north, then proposed the new, smaller site to the south.
Evans said the new site is a rocky, cactus-strewn, relatively level site that sits uphill from the subdivision.
He said the property will still border several homes, but fewer than the previous Mesa del site.
The town must spend about $50,000 to evaluate the new site before the Forest Service makes the decision about which site to sell to the town for the filtration plant, said Evans.
The town has paid the bill for an environmental assessment of the proposed $33 million pipeline, which will run from Washington Park to the treatment plant along Houston Mesa Road.
The consultants concluded that despite three stream crossings, the pipeline will have no significant impact on the stream, endangered or threatened species or archaeological sites.
The pipeline will ultimately carry 3,500 acre-feet per year. That will more than double Payson’s sustained water supply, with 500 acre-feet reserved for about a dozen communities along the way — including Mesa del Caballo.
Wells serving that subdivision have not been able to keep up with the demand for the past two summers, forcing the costly hauling of water from other wells.
Mesa del Caballo’s fortunate location near the treatment plant means Brooke Utilities can likely negotiate a contract with the Salt River Project to get water more cheaply than almost any other community.