Congress last week approved House Resolution 489, which Payson hopes will keep the Blue Ridge pipeline project from getting caught in any more bureaucratic crossfires.
The legislation would make it clear that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will play the lead role in overseeing the pipeline project, which passes through two different national forests.
Congressional District One Rep. Paul Gosar sponsored the legislation, which mirrored a bill his predecessor Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick also got through the House. However, the Senate never acted on Kirkpatrick’s bill, leaving Gosar to start over from the beginning.
Town of Payson Mayor Kenny Evans noted upon the passage of the bill, “We are deeply pleased that Congressman Gosar, as a freshman, was able to pass this important piece of legislation. Having a sustainable supply of water is important for the future of our small community and we appreciate the congressman’s efforts to cut through the bureaucratic red tape that has been holding this project up.”
Gosar said, “My legislation is a common-sense solution to the bureaucratic wrangling that has occurred between the Department of Interior and Agriculture that has compromised the routine maintenance of critical water infrastructure in Arizona. I am humbled by the strong bipartisan support the bill received, and I thank all of the local and federal stakeholders who came to the table. When we work together and put the people first, we can break the partisan stalemate in Washington and solve the problems facing our communities.”
Payson has been pushing for the legislation for more than two years, hoping to make it easier to build and maintain the Blue Ridge pipeline. Access to the 17-mile stretch of existing pipeline atop the Rim has sometimes been impeded by Coconino National Forest officials.
Meanwhile, Payson continues to struggle to win approval from the Tonto National Forest to build a second, 15-mile section of pipe buried alongside Houston Mesa Road.
Relatively minor questions raised about the potential impact of several endangered species that don’t actually live in the East Verde River have caused a one-year delay in the project — now undergoing review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Payson hopes to win Forest Service approval of the pipeline and site for a water treatment plant so it can begin construction of the pipeline in the spring. The town already used a portion of a $10 million federal stimulus grant, to purchase and store pipe in Phoenix while awaiting Forest Service action.
Town officials say the doubling of the town’s water supply the pipeline will produce remains essential to all its future growth plans, especially the long-suffering plans to build a 6,000-student Arizona State University campus here.
As it turns out, H.R. 489 would have relatively little impact on that sort of log jam that has stalled the pipeline for the past year, since the Forest Service will still have the responsibility for approving various environmental assessments.
Nonetheless, Payson officials say that H.R. 489 will clear away future roadblocks when it comes to actually building the pipeline and then the ongoing, long-term maintenance.
Arizona Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain meanwhile have co-sponsored S. 201, an identical measure that has already passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
If the full Senate approves S. 201, the House and Senate versions would be merged and move on to the White House for a signature.