Some 26 years ago, a then-freshman congressman whose district included Rim Country got his very first bill passed — a law directing the U.S. Forest Service to sell to the Payson Unified School District at a bargain basement price the land on which Payson High School now sits.
Last week, that same young fellow, now grown to one of the most influential members of Congress, came back to Rim Country for a luncheon intended to honor his long service to this community — and his country.
The luncheon lauded Sen. Jon Kyl for taking care of business here at home — chiefly for his pivotal role in wheedling through Congress a law giving Payson and other Northern Gila County communities rights to 3,500 acre-feet of water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir.
Rim Country’s future remains set on that foundation, from plans for building a university here to hopes for a return to healthy growth in jobs and housing.
Elsewhere in today’s paper you’ll see an article about the grim projections for future mega droughts as the planet warms that will dwarf any dry period in the past 1,000 years. The unexpectedly bad news on rainfall patterns underscores the importance of the efforts of public servants like Kyl to anticipate the future — and serve their communities.
So whether or not you agree with Kyl’s outspoken positions on the whole range of challenges and choices facing this ever-resourceful nation, you must honor his service — that long stint in the trenches working his way down democracy’s “to do” list.
The luncheon also offered a valuable reminder of the complexity and persistence of those challenges. You can be sure that Payson Mayor Kenny Evans and others took full advantage of Kyl’s presence here for such a well-earned tribute to lobby the outgoing senator on issues at least as pressing as that long-ago need for the high school.
Chief on the list remains the effort to convince the U.S. Forest Service to approve a direct sale of as much as 300 acres of federal land for a university campus essential to the region’s economic future. Entangled in well-intentioned rules with unintended consequences, the Forest Service has stalled the project for close to a year plodding through its procedures for a direct sale — including requiring backers to raise $375,000 to pay for environmental assessments without any guarantee the Forest Service will actually sell the land.
Moreover, all these years later Payson still needs help from our elected representatives to complete the Blue Ridge pipeline. Kyl helped move through the Senate a bill that helped hack through the bureaucratic thicket. The project also benefited from a $10 million stimulus grant and low-interest, long-term federal loans.
The role of the feds in providing vital infrastructure for Rim Country reveals the danger of making the federal government the enemy. On the other hand, the frustrations of coping with the bureaucracy underscores the need to elect persistent, resourceful representatives to protect our interests.
So we thank Sen. Jon Kyl for his years of service to this community, even if we know the fight to secure our future starts fresh every morning — and plays out in every election cycle.