President Barack Obama last night issued a ringing call to unsnarl government red tape that prevents the creation of the jobs America so desperately needs.
Glad to hear it. Certainly, even the most hard-core partisans on either side of the aisle can agree on that much.
Well, we’ve got the perfect way to prove that it’s not just empty rhetoric.
Eleven months ago, Payson finished a $500,000 environmental assessment of a 15-mile-long pipeline alongside Houston Mesa Road designed to deliver 3,500 acre-feet of Blue Ridge water annually.
The economy of Rim Country depends critically on this pipeline. The pipeline will double the sustainable water supply of Payson and a host of other Rim Country communities. That water will underwrite a generation of responsible growth in a community whose future was once blighted by a water shortage.
Moreover, the pipeline also holds the key to a visionary plan to build a college campus here that will provide 600 local jobs and affordable college degrees for thousands of students.
Payson actually paid the Forest Service an extra $165,000 to make sure it could hire all the people it needed to review the environmental assessment and keep the project moving. In return, the Forest Service signed a contract that promised it would finish work on the environmental assessment by October of last year.
But the Forest Service failed to live up to its contract. A single, minor bureaucrat in the Phoenix office of the Tonto National Forest office has yet to finish a review of the long-completed environmental assessment. The review is 11 months behind schedule.
Town officials are facing federal deadline for spending a 2009 stimulus grant and loan of $10.5 million. They received the stimulus grant for the pipeline because it was a shovel ready project that would bring jobs to the community. The town purchased the pipe for the project and now has to pay for storing it in the Valley because another federal agency, the Forest Service, cannot get its act together and did not abide by its agreed upon contract.
One Forest Service official has raised a chaotic, endless series of sometimes nonsensical questions, with no regard at all for the urgent timelines — both for building the pipeline and for the impact on the plans to build the college. Mind you, the independent consultants and biologists who did the assessment found no endangered or threatened species in the creek likely to be affected by construction of the pipeline.
And if that’s not enough, the Forest Service continues to delay selling the land Payson needs for the college — although Congress earmarked the 300-acre parcel for sale a decade ago.
As a result, a pointless, unfocused, red tape delay threatens to push the pipeline and the college back by a year or more — which means the loss of hundreds of jobs in a hard-pressed rural economy with the spector of a renewed recession towering over us like thunderheads.
So Rep. Paul Gosar, Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain, if you truly are representing the interests of Rim Country, here’s what we need you to do. Right now, today, call every other member of the Arizona congressional delegation — Republicans and Democrats alike. Plead for their bipartisan support to put a request to cut through this terrible tangle of job-killing red tape. Get this project to move forward before it just blows away in the next Rim Country storm.
How can you let one person keep the Rim Country at bay for 11 months — stall and maybe kill projects that would create more than 600 good paying jobs?
We don’t care who gets the credit. We just need the jobs.