Work continues on Tonto Creek near Punkin Center as prison crews remove some of the vegetation clogging the creek.
Removal of “dead and down” brush started Dec. 27 with roughly two dozen workers from area prisons clearing out the creek and burning most of the waste on site.
Currently, crews are out between the Bar X and A Cross Crossings on the west side of the creek. Workers will turn around when they reach where the lake used to sit and make their way back up the east side, said Gila County Supervisor Mike Pastor at a community meeting in Tonto Basin’s school Tuesday night.
“They will continue working on that until we run out of funds,” he said. “We have about $40,000 left still in the project.”
Last year, brush removal stopped at the start of mating season for several endangered species that live in the creek. This year, workers have until roughly the end of March to finish work before mating season starts again.
Getting crews in the creek and working has been no small feat for the county. With critical habitat issues and a slew of bureaucratic red tape, it looked like no one would ever be allowed to put a shovel in the creek, much less remove anything from it.
But a new working relationship with the Forest Service and District Ranger Kelly Jardine has meant more can be done, Pastor said.
Pastor praised Jardine for his cooperation at the meeting and said none of the work would have been possible under the old administration.
Residents at the meeting echoed Pastor’s sentiment.
“Thank you very much for that,” said resident Leo Coombs.
While residents are happy with the brush removal work, many more are still dissatisfied with the work the county did to repair a levee damaged by floodwaters several years ago.
County crews added 600 yards of riprap to the Roosevelt Gardens East dike. Pastor said dike work is finished for now and officials are waiting to see if the work holds before they do any additional repairs.
Coombs and another resident at Tuesday’s meeting said the repair work done is not good enough. Additionally, the water in the channel is flowing in such a way now that water is directed toward the dike.
One resident asked why the county did not re-channel the flow away from the levee.
Pastor said he did not have an answer for that.
“Who should we ask then? You are the one that is elected,” Coombs said.
“What I am going to do Leo, is go back and find out,” Pastor said, adding there may be options.
“I have been told that we have done what we said we were going to do and what we are allowed to do,” Pastor said.
Coombs said if he knew that the county was only to repair the levee like it did, he would have spoken out sooner.
“If we don’t fight with you for us we get destroyed,” he said. “There are a whole bunch of people in here that got flooded and it is dangerous.”
Coombs said he was so upset he planned to run against Pastor in the upcoming election. Coombs said he plans to get to the bottom of a diversion wall put in at the Bar X Crossing that he believes is directing water to the east side.
Pastor defended his time in office and the work he has overseen. When first elected, there was a lot of animosity between residents and the Forest Service about the state of the creek, but that relationship has improved, he said.
“I have tried to do as much as I possibly could do and I think I have done a pretty good job,” he said. “I am not a miracle maker, but I have done what I can do and that is where I stand on that.”
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Pastor said plans to build a bridge over Tonto Creek remain on schedule. Design plans are 60 percent complete and before the Arizona Department of Transportation for review. By April, plans should be 98 percent done.
“That is moving along pretty good,” he said.
Despite having enough money to complete plans for the bridge, the county still does not have a way to pay for construction of the bridge. The county is waiting to hear if it will get funding from the federal government, Pastor said.
Scrap tire, appliance drop off
On Feb. 11, each licensed driver can drop off as many as 10 old or unwanted tires free at the county yard in Punkin Center from 8 a.m. to noon.
And on March 3, residents can drop off unwanted appliances free at the Globe and Payson landfills, Pastor said.