Shouldn’t jinx it.
Shouldn’t even mention it.
Certainly shouldn’t look it in the eyes.
Still, it seems like we can at least start to hope again.
The Tonto National Forest recently did something unprecedented in the agonizing history of the Rim Country Educational Alliance’s effort to build a university campus in Payson that would not only benefit students — but help transform the region’s economy.
The Forest Service took an incredible eight months to come up with the bid specifications for an independent appraiser to put a value on a 260-acre piece of property. But that delay mostly was a result of the wait for regional officials to get around to drawing up the paperwork, although the Alliance paid $15,000 to help cover staff costs.
But once it fell to the Tonto National Forest to actually pick an appraiser, officials moved with marvelous speed — beating their own deadline by about five days.
We’d throw a party and wear a cone-shaped pink hat with sparkles, but there’s one irritating little “but” (naturally).
The Alliance put up the $24,000 for the appraisal, but couldn’t so much as speed-read the bid package. The Forest Service repeatedly assured the Alliance that an appraiser who can get the job done quickly would have an edge over other appraisers — even if with a higher bid. That’s great, said the Alliance: Let’s get moving.
The bid went to a Tucson appraiser. But the Tucson appraiser then told the Alliance he has other projects he has to complete first and he can’t promise to get the Payson appraisal done before Aug. 18 — which is about a month longer than the maximum time the Forest Service said it would put in the bid. We apparently have to take their word for it, since no one else can look at the bids or the bid package — for fear they’ll somehow influence the appraiser. Of course, the Forest Service — which actually gets the money for the sale — essentially gets to hand pick the appraiser behind closed doors according to secret criteria. Not that we’re complaining so as to maybe possibly upset the Forest Service. Nope. Not doing that at all.
Don’t get us wrong: We’re pleased as punch the Forest Service awarded the bid so promptly. We’re not complaining. Please don’t hurt us. We’re just saying.
Well, never mind. Progress is progress — so long as the steps forward by some margin outnumber the steps backward.
Hopefully, the Alliance can now set other wheels in motion.
Of course, we’ve learned to expect the worst when dealing with the Forest Service — especially when it comes to this project, so vital to students, parents, the state’s university system, our kids, Rim Country’s economy and the taxpayers who own the land in question. Enrollment at ASU continues to grow by about 5 percent annually and studies suggest the state needs to grant about twice as many college degrees as it does now in the near future just to keep pace with growth. Everyone has treated this project like some cute little Payson project — but it’s really a model for meeting this critical state need without coming up with taxpayer money.
Progress continues on other fronts as well. The Alliance has found a new developer, after the original development company dissolved during the two-year delay for the Forest Service land sale. The Alliance needs a developer who will front some of the development costs, so the project can shift into high gear as soon as the Forest Service completes the land sale — hopefully by the end of the year or soon thereafter.
The Alliance still has investors and a line of credit to pay the hefty cost of construction, but doesn’t want to put off borrowing that money until it’s ready to start construction.
The backers of this crucial project deserve gratitude, respect — and maybe free drinks anywhere in town for their patience and persistence and vision. The effort has proven far more complex and frustrating than anyone anticipated, but all the work and pain finally appear ready to bear fruit.
Hopefully, some of the political candidates trooping through Payson lately looking for votes will also take a close look at this project. Backers have labored without any help at all from the state-level politicians and officials that should have hurried it along as the best model for creating a desperately needed state college system.
But we hope that after the Alliance finally hacks a path through the thorny thickets of obstacles, the state will seize on the model and make it much easier for other communities to follow suit.
In the meantime, we can only hope that the Forest Service doesn’t think of some other bizarre regulation to delay this project any longer.
Not that we’re complaining or trying to upset anyone or even counting our chickens until they’re ready to pluck.
In fact, please, Mister Forest Service — just forget we said anything.
Wouldn’t want to jinx it.