A cadre of state lawmakers wants to take over some 25 million acres of federal land in Arizona and cast aside pesky environmental laws that have often immobilized federal agencies like the U.S. Forest Service.
On the face of it, Payson’s long, frustrating effort to salvage Rim Country’s struggling economy by creating a public-private partnership to build a 6,000-student university here would seem to provide the perfect argument for such a takeover — which will appear on the ballot in November in the form of Proposition 120.
Now, it’s not hard not to sputter and fume when considering the incomprehensible series of roadblocks the federal government has thrown in the way of the sale of 260 acres of land vital for the construction of a university and related businesses that would likely interject $100 million to $150 million annually into the local economy.
Congress earmarked the parcel for sale more than a decade ago. Payson has been pressing the Tonto National Forest to complete the sale for more than three years. Incredibly enough, the Forest Service insists that the Rim Country Educational Alliance must complete a $375,000 environmental study before it decides whether the Alliance can buy the land at the full, appraised price. Since lenders and investors don’t want to put up money for land the Forest Service might then decide not to sell, backers have turned to the community to raise the money.
Only the federal government could, with a straight face, charge a buyer for a needless study that delays the sale for a year, indifferent to the difficulty of keeping some some $400 million in funding hanging in the balance.
The federal government ought to treat the sale like a job-producing priority, in the midst of a campaign where all the politicians are blathering about reducing unemployment. Instead, it’s very nearly business as usual — despite the strenuous efforts of Payson Ranger District Head Ranger Angie Elam to push the sale along.
But would we end up any better off if the state Legislature somehow managed to dance around the formidable constitutional issues and undo the century-old terms of statehood?
Remember, Gov. Jan Brewer dealt a nearly mortal blow to the Payson campus project when she vetoed a hard-won bill that would have allowed Payson and ASU to join in forming the SLE, saving some $80 million in interest costs and making the financial partnership between ASU and the Alliance far easier. Backers have been struggling ever since to reconstitute the deal she so recklessly derailed.
Moreover, the state Legislature has done virtually nothing to help make the campus a reality. Instead, state budget cuts have nearly wrecked the state park system — and driven down visitation at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, currently the biggest tourist draw in Rim Country.
Alas, the disease Proposition 120 seeks to treat remains crippling and chronic. But based on the Legislature’s performance lately, the cure could prove fatal.
What a weekend
Wow. What a weekend. What to to? What to do?
Definitely got to get down to the Payson Event Center and cheer on our local heroes — Rim Country teenagers whose discipline, talent and hard work have made them some of the country’s best ropers, riders and barrel racers.
What a thrill — and what worthy inheritors of the tough pioneer spirit that built this place.
But wait: What about the Fire on the Rim Mountain Bike Race? The event will draw bikers from all over the state to test themselves on some of the best trails in the state. We would show up just to cheer on the folks who organized an event that can put us on the mountain biking map; who put the whole thing together, given the benefits. But then — there’s the beer garden to clinch the lure.
Speaking of beer: Don’t forget the Rim Country Archaeological Society’s little Saturday seminar on how the Hohokam made beer — the perfect mix of history and mixocology.
See the problem? Bikes, beer, barrel racing — more beer: Boy, oh boy, oh boy.
Don’t you just love living in Rim Country?