Payson Approves New Site For Treatment Plant

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The Payson Town Council Thursday unanimously approved a new location for the sometimes-controversial treatment plant for the Blue Ridge pipeline.

The council will evoke the federal Townsite Act to speed purchase of the five-acre site adjacent to Mesa del Caballo for a water filtration and hydro-generation power plant. The plant would sit on a rocky knoll near the general store at the entrance to the subdivision.

The act allows the Forest Service to sell the town the land for essential public improvements based on an appraisal, rather than competitive bidding.

“We don’t need to make the purchase at this time,” said Buzz Walker, who heads Payson’s water department. “But we do need the appraisal.”

Town officials hope the new site will win the approval of the Mesa del Caballo residents who protested the plan to build the treatment plant on a seven-acre site on the opposite side of the subdivision. That site would have adjoined about seven lots, and residents complained it might block their view of the Rim as well as their access to the National Forest.

The new site should bother fewer homeowners, but still allow the 400-home subdivision to hook into the pipeline and receive treated water at a lower cost than almost any other community along the route of the pipeline.

The council’s action last week completes a long search for the best place to build a treatment plant at the end of the 15-mile run of the pipeline from Washington Park along Houston Mesa Road to a point where the town could let the water flow into its existing system.

The long, downhill run will allow the town to generate electricity, which will help offset the cost of the $34-million project.

In addition, the filtration plant will remove silt and algae from the water. The town will also likely build some sort of system to mix minerals into the pristine Blue Ridge water, so that the ultra-pure water won’t dissolve decades of hard-water deposits lining the pipes in the town’s existing system. Just such a chemical reaction caused a storm of protests and expensive fixes when the Central Arizona Project interjected Colorado River water into Tucson’s groundwater based water system.

The town had originally wanted to build the treatment plan on a plot of land fronting Houston Mesa Road on the mesa near the Shoo Fly Ruins. However, the Forest Service nixed that site because it would have created a new, private in-holding, completely surrounded by Forest Service land.

The new site will adjoin private land, so it won’t create an in-holding. However, town officials say it doesn’t run along any existing homeowner back fences and so should spur less opposition.

A delay by the Tonto National Forest in approving an environmental assessment of the pipeline project stalled progress for nearly a year, but the approval of the assessment has thrown the project into high gear. Town officials hope to start construction early next year, with water arriving in late 2014 or early 2015.

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