The Gila County Planning Commission Wednesday rallied to support a Roosevelt Lake mobile home park about to lose its long-term lease from the Tonto National Forest.
Chairman Don Ascoli said the county should invoke an agreement with the Forest Service requiring the federal agency to confer with the county before making any land use decisions.
“Before they just go making decisions, we ensure the county has a place at the table,” said Ascoli during the hearing. “This is not a conflict or a confrontation, but an opportunity to work with the Forest Service.”
He said the planning commission spent 18 months working out the procedures for consultations with the Forest Service the county adopted in 2008, but the Forest Service has mostly ignored both the county ordinance and the consultation requirements in federal law.
The issue centers on the Tonto National Forest’s decision to not renew a 21-acre, 40-year lease with the 167-resident Roosevelt Lakeview Park. The Forest Service has previously warned the community of mostly vacation and second-home residents that the private use of public land conflicts with the updated forest plan. In theory, the park will have to shut down in January.
David Buckmaster, the leaseholder, appealed to the commission to help rally political support for the mobile home park, which also operates a sewage treatment plant that serves businesses in the area — including a marina.
“We want to take a whole bunch of ideas and throw them against the wall and see what gets attention,” Buckmaster told the planning commission on Wednesday. “When does the fire get hot enough for the Forest Service to go in and cool down the coals? The county could help us talk about it, but what is the pivot point? What is going to move the Forest Service?”
The Forest Service spent several years in negotiations with the holder of the lease before notifying Buckmaster that it will not renew the lease in January.
In theory, the homeowners can move their mobile homes to other parks. However, many of the units were built before 1976 when construction standards for mobile homes changed. As a result, owners can’t move them to other parks.
Tonto Basin Ranger District Head Ranger Kelly Jardin could not attend the session on Wednesday. However, he has said previously that forest policy bars “exclusive” use by a private business of public lands. The forest could lease land for something like the marina or a campground or an RV park, but not for what amounts to private housing.
However, the planning commission hearing focused on the impact shutting down the trailer park next year would have on the local economy and the handful of businesses now operating on the lakeshore, including a marina that relies on the wastewater treatment facilities maintained by the trailer park.
One study suggested the mobile home park interjects more than $2 million annually into the local economy and offers the only place to live along miles of lakefront.
Moreover, Ascoli said the Forest Service operates a nearby visitor’s center that currently trucks its wastewater more than eight miles for treatment. Instead, he said, the Forest Service could save money by letting Roosevelt Lakeview Park continue to operate, while also processing the wastewater from the visitor’s center.
Ascoli said Congressman Paul Gosar, state Sen. Sylvia Allen and state Representatives Chester Crandell and Brenda Barton have already agreed to try to convince the Forest Service to reconsider its decision to not renew the lease. Moreover, he urged the planning commission to ask for a consultation with the Forest Service on the lease renewal.
“The county would like to see that continue as it is. It is a lovely community. There’s no reason to change what’s there and remove it,” said Ascoli.
Ascoli said he hopes to help rally political support for the mobile home park.
“I don’t think any of us really knows how to do this.” However, he said he hopes the county can help turn up the heat on the political fire Buckmaster said he wanted to stoke.
“The economic burden is on a small proportion of our population. We’re hoping we can help you get that fire started,” said Ascoli.