Let Us All Hope For A Forest Service Change Of Heart


The closer we look — the worse it gets. Don’t take our word for it: Read today’s front-page story about the sometimes inane and meandering questions that could force a long delay in not only the $34 million Blue Ridge pipeline, but Payson’s $500 million college campus as well.

Payson paid the Forest Service $169,000 so it could hire all the extra help it might need to make sure the town could build the pipeline on time — and built an intricate schedule for the college on that assurance.

Now, we’ll take second seat to no one in our love of the East Verde River and the forest in general — it is one of the reasons we live here in the first place. If we thought the Blue Ridge pipeline would destroy the river and harm the wild creatures that depend on it, we would crusade against that pipeline.

But consider the convoluted logic that for a full year has stalled approval of the environmental assessment of the plan to build a pipeline along Houston Mesa Road. The questions mostly revolve around three species.

First you have the Mexican spotted owl — none of which live anywhere near the creek. In fact, the nearest critical habitat lies at least a mile away from the pipeline — and even that patch of forest has no nesting pairs. So how can the pipeline ruffle the ruff of a single spotted owl?

Second, you have the endangered Chiricahua leopard frog. Again, the nearest frog lives in a spring a mile away. None live in the East Verde, which is so full of hungry trout and crawfish they probably wouldn’t last long anyway. So no matter what the construction crews do, it won’t help — or hurt — the leopard frogs.

That leaves us with the headwater chub, which actually does live in the East Verde. It is not on the endangered list at all. Even so, the pipeline will not make any difference. The East Verde is so full of trout and crawfish the chub will likely never reclaim that lost ground. Besides, the pipe builders won’t even interrupt the flow of water in the creek — so it’s hard to imagine how the project will affect the stray chub already there.

In a rational world, the Forest Service would have reviewed the draft a year ago, made some edits, added some language about runoff and kept the project moving — mindful of the critical need for the hundreds of jobs it will provide.

Instead, the Forest Service pocketed the $169,000, ignored its signed contract and continues to raise fanciful objections that promise to do terrible damage to the taxpayers who pay their salaries.

Payson officials have been reduced to praying that round 10 of the mind-numbing edits will convince the Forest Service the pipeline construction crews won’t hurt owls and frogs that aren’t even there.

So let us all join in a moment of prayer. And if that don’t work, we’ll be happy to help organize the crusade.


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