The effort to build a four-year university in Payson remains enmeshed in end-game negotiations with Arizona State University, a private academy and several other contenders — but at least the Payson Town Council last week took a concrete step toward acquiring the land the winner in the negotiations will need to build a 6,000-student campus.
The expansion of the project to include both a public university and a private, specialized academy has increased the amount of land the Rim Country Education Alliance SLE will need to accommodate the two campuses and the spin-off businesses, like a research park, conference hotel and incubation center.
So the Payson council last Thursday took a small, but definite step to pave the way for the purchase of 300 acres from the U.S. Forest Service. Until recently, the Forest Service planned to sell just 260 acres, while retaining 40 acres for an expanded Payson Ranger Station. However, in the latest adjustments of its plan the Forest Service has said it may move the ranger station and sell the Alliance the whole parcel.
The Forest Service is now trudging through the process of actually selling to the Rim Country Educational Alliance 300 acres south of Highway 260 and west of Tyler Parkway. The Alliance has hired a consultant to do an environmental assessment of the proposed sale, which Forest Service officials have said they might complete by early fall.
However, the Forest Service asked the town to clear up the murky responsibility for several roads on Forest Service land as part of the 300-acre land sale.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans explained at last Thursday’s council meeting that when the town incorporated, it assumed responsibility for maintaining portions of Mud Springs Road and Granite Dells Road, although both roads cross Forest Service land.
“These are technically Forest Service roads that we maintain, but there’s no legal documentation” establishing ownership, responsibility or liability, said Evans.
He urged the council to adopt a resolution accepting responsibility for the roads and right-of-way, which will provide crucial access to the plot of land earmarked for a university campus and support facilities.
“We need to make up for lapses in former judgment,” said Evans. The Forest Service “wants to know that we’re going to deal with that road that was on their property.”
The council unanimously approved the resolution, the latest in the seemingly endless series of juggles and improvisations necessary to work out the complex negotiations with ASU, the U.S. Forest Service and donors and lenders who have pledged more than $400 million to build the proposed universities and their support facilities.