College Land Sale Meeting Saturday

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Advocates hope Payson college supporters will come out in force on Saturday, to support a Forest Service plan to sell a nearly 300-acre parcel crucial to the campus.

The Payson Ranger District will seek public comments during an open house at the Best Western Payson Inn from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on its plan to sell the Rim Country Educational Alliance about 260 acres where backers want to build a 6,000-student Arizona State University campus.

Congress authorized the sale of the parcel a decade ago and Payson has been laboring to pull together the plan to build a high-tech, energy-efficient undergraduate campus for nearly three years. However, the land sale appeared stalled until newly arrive Payson Ranger District Head Ranger Angie Elam cut through the delays and scheduled the Saturday open house.

Elam has told town officials she believes the district can quickly complete a streamlined environmental assessment of the sale of the land in the spring.

Before Elam’s arrival, campus backers had despaired of a quick sale of the Forest Service land and drawn up a backup plan to build the first, 1,000-student phase of the campus north of the highway, using both private land and a parcel owned by Gila County, but held in trust for the future expansion of Gila Community College.

Payson Mayor Kenny Evans has said that if Elam can hold to the promised timetable and conclude the land sale by early next year, college backers could revert to the original plan and start construction south of the highway. The parcel north of the highway might eventually then include some college classes and offices and some of the spin-off businesses, like a proposed research park and solar cell assembly plant.

The Forest Service land sale plan up for review tomorrow would use the money raised from selling 240 acres to the Education Alliance to build a new visitors center and office complex near the site of the existing Payson Ranger Station. In addition, the money would allow the Forest Service to consolidate its scattered maintenance and firefighting operations on a new site next to the Gila County Maintenance Yard on the outskirts of Star Valley — including a helicopter landing pad for fighting fires.

The Payson Ranger District would end up with a 40-acre administrative site with about 17,000 square feet of office space and 4,000 square feet of storage space. The site would also include a 10,000-square-foot headquarters for the firefighting Hotshot crews based in Payson every summer to jump on dangerous wildfires.

In addition, the district would have a 40-acre site for its firefighting operations, including a 7,000-square-foot building with offices, showers, storage and other facilities for firefighters. It would also include corrals and a helipad on five acres, surrounded by 35 acres of forested buffer zone to screen the operations from the neighbors.

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