Alliance Must Act On Sale

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Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

The Rim Country Educational Alliance continues to struggle heroically with the fierce, hydra-headed bureaucracy of the U.S. Forest Service in its quest to buy a 260-acre parcel on which it wants to build a university that will bring an enormous benefit to the very taxpayers the federal government ought to serve.

The grueling cliffhanger has been fraught with cruel disappointments. It took years for the Alliance to negotiate a complex deal with Arizona State University, despite the obstructionism of the Governor’s office. But backers seemed on the brink of concluding the deal and breaking ground — until the Forest Service found a handful of what is believed to be shattered pottery pieces.

That triggered yet another nightmarish series of obstacles to a plan that the state and federal governments should have been tumbling all over themselves to assist.

Fortunately, Payson Head Ranger Angie Elam and Tonto National Forest Supervisor Neil Bosworth have labored mightily to win approval for a direct sale of the land and to work out some way to deal with the suspected pottery shards.

We earnestly hope it all works out. Certainly, Bosworth has struggled to roll the great stone of a direct sale up the hill of the Forest Service bureaucracy. Reportedly, the regional office has now signed off on a direct sale and this week or next, the proposal will go to officials in Washington.

Forest Supervisor Bosworth seems confident that Washington will approve the direct sale in a matter of weeks — which would represent just about the first time in this whole process that someone was willing to give Payson — and taxpayers — a break.

However, we still have the possible pottery problem. The Forest Service wants the Alliance to agree to spend $230,000 to excavate more archeological remains — and put up a $500,000 bond or guarantee in case they find something significant. That’s a deal killer, unless the Forest Service can sign some sort of convincing legal guarantee to sell the property first — since the Alliance can’t get ASU to proceed or investors to provide the money to build without such a guarantee.

It makes no sense at all for the Forest Service to insist on a huge outlay of money and time before guaranteeing the sale. But even Forest Service officials who say they strongly support the land sale say their hands are tied by the thick stack of regulations adopted to implement the law requiring the Forest Service to do its best to protect archeological remains on federal lands.

Now, in a reasonable world based on what’s best for the taxpayers who own the land, the Alliance could agree to carefully excavate the areas where the consultants found the pottery — and preserve whatever they find. In return, the Forest Service could let the sale go forward as soon as Washington approves the direct sale approach. The Forest Service could then gratefully accept the $5-$7 million for the land and build a new ranger station and firefighting facilities.

Supervisor Bosworth thinks that the Forest Service can sign agreements and issue permits that will accomplish the same end.

We hope so.

But if the Forest Service can’t — or won’t — act to benefit the taxpayers who pay their salaries, then the Alliance should itself act decisively.

The Forest Service parcel would make a marvelous campus: Almost perfect.

But don’t let that ruin the project. Given the current real estate market, we suspect the Alliance could find another perfectly good site.

So don’t let the perfect ruin the perfectly good.

Longhorns do it again

All right. All right. We know we said we couldn’t be any more proud. But oh, my goodness: Did you see the scores?

Truth be told, we expected the Lady Longhorns to make it into the semifinals this weekend. After all, they’re ranked Number 2 in Division III.

But even in our buoyant little Rim Country heart, we didn’t really think the #9 Longhorns baseball team would beat both Blue Ridge and Show Low on successive days to make it into the final four.

The softball and baseball teams scored convincing wins — and now they both have a real shot at the state championship — as do the Longhorns golf team and some outstanding track and field athletes.

So get set to do some serious cheering/praying/bragging/hoping this weekend. It’s all on the line now.

A storybook ending to a storybook year — maybe the best year ever for the best kids anywhere.

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