Gush Of Opportunity

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“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” — Winston Churchill

So, let us confess our (cockeyed) optimism.

Consider, for instance, the opportunity presented by the proposed doubling — and perhaps redoubling of the water rates for a host of small communities served by the misleadingly named Payson Water Company — bought recently by JJ Williamson from the infamous Brooke Utilities.

Residents of Mesa del Caballo, East Verde Estates, Whispering Pines, Flowing Springs and a handful of other communities have struggled mightily to get the company to explain why it needs such a monstrous increase, all without any promise the extra money will ensure an adequate water supply.

The hearings before an administrative judge for the Arizona Corporation Commission haven’t shed much light on the matter. Clearly, Brooke Utilities maintained low rates for years by letting the system fall apart and investing not a penny in either maintaining the existing system or preparing to accommodate growth.

No doubt, residents must cope with a significant rate increase to repair the damage of long neglect in a region where rainfall — and well levels — have grown increasingly unreliable. The fight will continue to determine whether the increase is ruinous or merely painful.

And once the rate increase takes effect, residents will still struggle to get enough water from a company with limited financing and a limited ability to win the federal grants so essential to building an adequate water system. Many will face huge increases in summer water bills with the imposition of water hauling fees. Others may find their communities stunted by a lack of water for future growth.

But we hope water users will also ponder the consequences of relying on an underfunded, profit-oriented private company for something as vital as a clean, reliable water supply. Pine and Strawberry learned that lesson: They labored under a building moratorium that blighted the whole community for years. Granted, the transition to a public water company has inflicted pain and confusion of its own — but the community at least has now secured its future and lifted the moratorium.

So what opportunity could arise from this difficulty?

We hope that communities like Mesa del Caballo, Whisper­ing Pines, East Verde Estates and Flowing Springs will seriously consider the potential benefits of joining with Payson by seeking annexation.

Rim Country must seek regional solutions to regional problems. Payson’s success in getting rights to 3,000 acre-feet of water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir underscores the stakes — and the opportunity. The communities along the under-construction pipeline all have a right to a share of that water, but they lack the expertise and the organization to claim that water. The door will soon close on the opportunity — and Salt River Project will lay claim to the unallocated water. But if these communities join with Payson now, they’ll bring a dowry of water to the partnership.

In truth, water represents only one of the pressing issues facing those small, unincorporated communities. Every one of them faces problems when it comes to fire protection, police protection and effective, sustained growth. They all face urgent problems — but also offer Payson the kind of expanded reach and coordination that can secure the future of the whole region.

We hope that in this crisis each of those communities will carefully consider the benefits of joining together to confront the difficulties and seize the opportunities. The entire region will benefit if we can unite. We can develop a water system that will lay the foundation for careful, sustained, regional growth. We can develop a fire protection system that will prevent catastrophe from sweeping out of the disastrously mismanaged forest to turn all our hopes to ashes. We can develop a rational, regional plan to maximize the recreational value of our rivers and amenities.

Granted, the difficulties seem acute.

But then, the opportunities appear boundless.

“Don't argue about the difficulties. The difficulties will argue for themselves.” — Winston Churchill

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