History On The Installment Plan

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Cragin/Blue Reservoir

“For want of a Nail the Shoe was lost; for want of a Shoe the Horse was lost; and for want of a Horse the Rider was lost; being overtaken and slain by the Enemy, all for want or care about a Horse-shoe Nail.”

Benjamin Franklin, The Way to Wealth, 1758

The Payson Town Council made another installment payment on history last week, when it approved the first three construction projects for the Blue Ridge pipeline.

Some $1.1 million will pay for roughly two miles of new water lines, a key move in adapting the existing system to the rush of some 3,000 acre-feet of Blue Ridge water annually starting in about 2014.

The council rightly paused to note the momentous occasion, the culmination of decades of planning, effort and frustration so vital now to the future of all of Rim Country.

We hope the voters — and water department customers — will take note of the complexity and breadth of that planning effort, as exemplified by these first contracts. It certainly calls to mind Benjamin Franklin’s unforgettable ode to the cascade of consequence that flows from the smallest of oversights.

Securing the water that will enable Payson to grow and prosper required years of obsessing on piles of horseshoe nails. We have reported on stray nails that have punctured expectation and time schedules. But we know the people who ran this long relay in the public interest could curdle milk with tales of near misses and unintended consequences.

We were delighted — as taxpayers — to see bids some $900,000 below the engineer’s estimates and even happier when local contractors offered two of the low bids. Granted, that’s also a scary illustration of the plight of the construction industry in Rim Country — but the bid award offers hopeful portents for the future.

Of course, challenges remain. The collapse of the housing market and the harrowing delay in striking a deal with Arizona State University have upended key financial assumptions. Five years ago, it seemed reasonable to expect the $7,500-per-unit water impact fee would cover the bulk of the costs of the new project. Please note: The Education Alliance has already agreed to pay more than $7 million in impact fees if it builds the university — a heartening chunk of the outstanding cost of the pipeline.

Now, it looks increasingly likely Payson will have to impose hikes in domestic water rates to ensure a sufficient revenue stream to qualify for low-interest, long-term federal loans. That promises to upset many residents who will recall the optimistic claims that impact fees and new development would pay for the pipeline, with no sacrifice at all from current users.

But we’ve confronted hard lessons these past five years with the consequences of a lopsided, boom-bust economy. Without the Blue Ridge water, we’d be shackled by the capacity of our already over-taxed wells. Blue Ridge gives us a chance to build a healthy, diverse, resilient economy. If that means paying a higher water bill, so be it.

But for now, it’s enough to admire the gallop of the splendidly horsed and shoed rider clattering along the pipeline route, with our hopes stuffed in his saddlebags.

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