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Reservoir water finally gushes from Payson taps

Sometime this week, your tap water changed.

And Payson Water Manager Tanner Henry either had a nervous breakdown — or is maybe getting his first good night’s sleep in a couple of years.

That’s because Payson threw the switch on its new, $53 million water system early this week, after decades of effort and years of innovation.

Payson town leaders and visionaries have spent decades working to bring the C.C. Cragin water to town, led all the while by Buzz Walker, the former water manager lingering in retirement on a special contract to see the project through.

Henry now runs the water department and has spent the past year in a harrowing effort to make sure the innovative system actually worked this week.

“We have $14 million worth of equipment that’s just been installed and that’s an awful lot of fittings and pieces that aren’t supposed to leak,” said Henry, who was a consulting engineer for Tetra Tech for 14 years before taking on the Payson Water Department. “During one stress test, a fitting blew off and we had an eruption in the parking lot.

“I’m losing sleep every night thinking, ‘holy-moley,’” he added.

The project will make Payson one of the few communities in the Southwest with an assured “forever” water supply, although it required outlasting behemoths like the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and bonding consultants — not to mention solving a host of daunting technical problems.

The town also had to win the support of residents already paying 20 to 40 percent more for their water. The town phased in the rate increases several years ago to assure the financing of the project.

The massive effort will each year deliver enough water to cover 3,000 acres in a foot of water, with about half of that flowing into homes and businesses throughout town and the other half going into the water table.

Already, the complicated system has attracted the attention of water experts all over the world.

“Hydrogeology consultants have already taken some pilot testing data and presented it to a world geology conference in Mexico City,” said Henry. We’re on the cutting edge of technology. They’re all sitting with bated breath, wondering how this is going to work out since some of their programs are contingent on our success.”

Moreover, the water goes to work immediately — producing the power needed to run the system. First, the Salt River Project pumps it out of the deep, narrow reservoir and into a pipeline that runs from the lake all the way down off the Rim to Washington Park. There, it passes through a hydroelectric generator, producing the power necessary to drive the pumps on top. About 3,000 acre-feet then goes into the Payson pipeline and perhaps another 10,000 acre-feet into the East Verde River. The water in Payson’s pipeline runs some 17 miles along Houston Mesa Road to the treatment plant near Shoofly Ruins and Mesa del Caballo. Here it passes through another generator to produce the power needed to run the high-tech treatment plant.

Henry said the town will probably hold some sort of ceremony in the fall to mark the decades of effort. But “I want to flip the switch and make sure the whole thing functions properly before we celebrate. The town manager said we’d have some short of shindig in the fall, once we kick the tires and take it around the block. It will take a week or so for water to spread throughout the system.”

Henry said the whole project has been an engineer’s dream.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with some wonderful engineers like Gary Dashney — right on the ground floor of the C.C. Cragin and Green Valley Park. He was a mentor not only for me, but for Buzz too. Now that I work on this side of the table, I’ve learned how unbelievably talented our crew is. You can put us up against any other water company out there.”

The success of the system rests on three questions, each with complex answers and big impacts.

How do you mix mineral-free snowmelt with mineral-laden groundwater, without a water quality nightmare?

How do you stash perhaps 2,000 acre-feet of water underground each year for future use?

And how can you use this gush of water to wash away old political conflicts, while securing the region’s future?

Learn more about the system in the next installment of this series on the C.C. Cragin project.

Bowling on - bulls off

Neighbors near Rim Country Bowl need not fear the lowing of bulls as a deal to add live bull riding has fallen through.

Now it’s business as usual for bowling alley owner Jason Harris while the Bandits and Bulls investors say they are exploring other business opportunities in Rim Country.

“The deal wasn’t super far along to begin with,” said Harris. “There were so many hoops to jump through and there were a lot of concerns once the plans were divulged that it wouldn’t work at that location — so they just decided to end the deal.”

The proposed live bull riding, bowling, arcade, dining and bar idea had neighbors showing up at Mayor Tom Morrissey’s open mic night June 25 ready for a bullfight.

“I’ve lived 25 years behind the bowling alley — I didn’t buy that place 25 years ago to see (live bull riding),” said one neighbor.

Neighbors learned from Shelia DeSchaaf, public works director, the deal had a lot of challenges just from the town zoning point of view.

“The zoning process helps the commission determine the necessary conditions to ensure the use could be compatible with surrounding uses,” said DeSchaaf. “The property is zoned C-2, which generally requires uses to be within a building. Most outdoor uses in C-2 require a conditional use permit.”

The CUP process requires every business to prove it has contacted any neighbor that resides within 300 feet. The proposed business also has “to allow for dialogue between the applicant and surrounding property owners to discuss/address concerns about the applicant’s proposal prior to it coming before the P&Z Commission for approval,” said DeSchaaf in an email.

“Then we can place conditions on the use permit,” DeSchaaf said during the meeting. “It may be hours of operation. It could be the location of the cattle pens, trailer parking, lighting — anything that could potentially affect property values that surround any new proposal that goes in.”

Aaron West of WPE Investments said “... the excitement surrounding this project was very positive. Although we are not choosing this exact location, (it) does not close the door on future opportunity for other locations for different business ventures.”

For Harris, he says he is happy to get back to providing Rim Country with a family friendly recreational venue. Already the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce has signed up to host another bowling league in August.

Harris said leagues are the backbone of his business.

“I just went to the bowling alley and scheduled our Chamber Bowling League with Gabby — she’s fantastic!” said Maia Crespin, executive director of the chamber.

Harris said Gabby Davis is the bowling alley’s manager. Backing her up are assistant manager Josh Williams and Tod McCarthy, bowling league coordinator.

“The staff is amazing. They’ve been trained by a hospitality company on customer service,” Harris said.

Harris says he is constantly remodeling and improving the facilities.

“We have expanded the arcade and due to popular demand, we expanded the pool hall in the Arizona Bar to four tables,” said Harris.

Harris said the visitors will enjoy the menu.

“We added a way better than average bar menu — it’s not just soggy chicken tenders,” said Harris.

A chef from the Hassayampa Resort in Prescott created a menu with pork shanks, garlic Parmesan fries and a patty melt quesadilla.

“What’s real popular is the black and blue burger,” he said.

“The website has our menu and what we offer and how we can help the community,” said Harris.

Harris takes his role in the community seriously.

On Wednesdays, Rim Country Bowl has an afterschool/summer late afternoon special for kids.

“We call it ABC — the afterschool bowling club,” he said. “It’s Wednesdays after school (3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.). Kids come in and for $5 they can play two games. We provide the shoes and charge $1 per soda.”

The facility hosts birthday parties.

“The packages ... include laser bowling, and start with two pitchers of soda and two lanes for two hours,” said Harris.

Parents can add a pizza or more to birthday deals.

The bowling alley also does fundraisers.

“We cater to each individual fundraising group,” he said. “They can do silent auctions and raffles. They can have banners there the same day.”

But he’s most proud of his leagues.

“That is a super important thing,” he said. “We have a bunch.”

McCarthy (the league coordinator) will help an individual find a place on a team or help start a team.

Even though it’s slowed down in the summer, four leagues still regularly meet.

“It gives people that once a week break from the rat race,” said Harris. “It’s your own guaranteed fun time — and it is really affordable. It is less than $10 per night.”

The chamber will start up its league again Aug. 7, Crespin said.

“Games will be every Wednesday at 6 p.m. for 13 weeks,” she said.

The price is $15 and includes three games, shoe rental and a beverage of the bowler’s choice.

“The maximum is 14 teams with four players per team,” she said.

Crespin plans on 50-50 raffles every week.

“At the end, every team wins money,” she said.

File photo by Keith Morris/Roundup  

Dreams of adding live bull riding to draw tourists to the local bowling alley, like similar facilities in the Valley, have ended after the deal fell through.

Shooting victim making slow recovery

A man shot three times at a Payson gas station says the incident has “softened him” and reminded him of the importance of family.

Cody Newman, 50, says he no longer takes for granted waking up next to his wife or playing with his three young children.

Newman was shot three times May 7 at the Giant gas station on South Beeline Highway after he says he got into an argument with Samuel McDonnell over a gas pump.

Any one of the bullets could have killed him, especially one that passed through his abdomen.

“A doctor said they had never seen a bullet go through an abdomen and miss all major organs,” he said. “They said somebody must have been looking out for you because it just doesn’t happen.”

McDonnell reportedly shot Newman as he was running away.

Newman said they got into a “trivial” argument after Newman pulled into the gas station behind McDonnell and McDonnell refused to pull his vehicle forward so Newman could use the pump.

Newman, the branch manager for Griffin’s Propane, was headed to Rye at the time to check on a gas leak.

When he couldn’t pull into the station to get gas, Newman said he pulled around McDonnell, stopping his white SUV on an angle at the pump in front of McDonnell.

Newman was talking to his wife at the time on a hands free headset.

The two were discussing an upcoming Spartan Race Newman was scheduled to run — it would have been his fourth such run.

“I like the challenge,” he said of the extreme mud runs. “I am not out to beat anyone — just to push myself.”

Newman was first introduced to the competition after joining a Star Valley CrossFit gym.

While they talked about the race, Newman said he was also giving her updates about what was happening at the gas station, telling her at first a man had rudely refused to pull forward.

When Newman got out of his SUV, he said he continued to talk to his wife and try to pump gas. He had issues getting the pump to work and all the while, Newman said he could see that McDonnell was glaring at him.

He said they exchanged words and at some point, McDonnell got into his Jeep and tried to hit Newman twice with the vehicle.

“I finally had enough,” he said.

Newman said he walked over to McDonnell’s vehicle, opened the driver door and punched McDonnell twice in the face. When he saw McDonnell reach for a handgun lying in the center console, Newman said he turned around and ran away.

Surveillance video from the gas station reportedly shows Newman some 15 feet away when he is first shot.

Newman said he learned this after talking to someone from the Gila County Attorney’s Office who had seen the footage. Newman has not seen the video and police have not released it yet.

Newman said he could remember yelling to his wife to call 911 because “he has a gun!”

Newman said he fell to the ground. He can remember looking up and his vision in one eye was blurred. One of the bullets had hit his sunglasses, sending plastic from the lens flying, scratching his face and eye.

He saw McDonnell walk over to him.

“I was thinking, ‘Am I going to die over a gas pump?’” he said. “Really, I am going to die over this?”

Newman believes a woman at the gas station may have said something to McDonnell, distracting his attention.

McDonnell got back into his vehicle and sped away. A Gila County Sheriff’s Office deputy caught up with him a few blocks away and he was arrested on charges of attempted second-degree murder and nine counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

After the shooting, Newman said family, friends and perfect strangers offered their support.

“I am so thankful for all the prayers,” he said.

He received many well wishes through social media and a fundraiser was held at the end of June at Bandits in Strawberry. A golf tournament is planned for August at Payson Golf Course. There is also a GoFundMe page.

“It is amazing all the people who have come out of the woodwork,” he said.

Newman said he has asked his wife if she can remember something he said at the gas station that may have set McDonnell off and she said, “No.”

He has lost 26 pounds since the shooting and was shuffled between two hospitals and two rehabilitation centers before his release. His left arm and leg still have numbness due to nerve damage, but doctors are optimistic he will make a full recovery, but more surgeries may be necessary.

Newman said the neuropathic pain in his leg, which he described as a stabbing pain, is extreme. Even something as simple as putting on a sock or having a sheet over him at night can make him scream out in pain.

“It feels like a dull hatchet,” he said. “On the ball of my foot it is like red hot needles.”

Newman is seeing a counselor to deal with the trauma of the event and his children and wife are also seeking counseling.

“I remember everything that happened that day I am just not sure what triggered him,” he said. “I still don’t know why he did what he did. I may never get the full truth. I don’t know why he felt I was enough of a threat to try and take my life.”

Still, Newman said he has forgiven McDonnell.

“I don’t need that kind of hate to build up in my life,” he said. “I am praying for his parents. I am sure they are just as devastated.”

McDonnell remains in the Gila County Jail in Globe. He is being held on a $100,000 cash-only bond.

Judge Gary Scales has assigned him attorney Michael Bernays. The next case management conference is Aug. 26 in Globe.

Newman hopes to get back to work soon. And in November, Newman would like to compete in a Rugged Maniac 5K obstacle course.

His wife has agreed to run it with him. It will be her first such event.

“She thinks I am crazy for doing these,” he said.

Newman said doing things with his wife and family mean everything to him.

“That first night being home (from the hospital) I held my wife’s hand all night. That meant more to me than anything.”

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Furor over volunteer appointment reveals council schism

A bitter council debate erupted on June 27 over appointments to several Payson advisory committees.

Town statute gives the mayor the right to recommend appointments to commissions that advise the council on a host of topics, including planning and zoning and recreation.

Normally, the appointments are routine with more concern over finding volunteers rather than who gets appointed. Past councils have accepted nominations from any council member, then reviewed resumés and applications to make a decision.

However, last week the issue prompted a split vote, with the minority complaining Mayor Tom Morrissey threw out incumbents in favor of his friends and volunteers from his campaign.

The topic not only split the council, it provoked a warning from Town Prosecutor Mary Bystricky about potential legal conflicts and/or violations of the town code.

The issue broke open when Councilor Barbara Underwood objected to approving a slew of appointments as part of the consent agenda. Morrissey had reportedly recommended replacing some committee members in favor of new appointees. He had also recruited volunteers for positions that had long remained vacant.

“I do have questions about people who have asked to be re-appointed,” Underwood said. “As a board, it takes awhile to get used to all the things you do ... it is really hard for me to support a nomination when someone who was willing to serve has been ousted.”

Underwood said she didn’t like losing the knowledge of experienced board members.

The members of the town’s advisory committees have to abide by all the same public meeting laws as council members, including the open meeting law.

“To turn (the committees) over with all new (volunteers), what’s the rationale behind it all?” she asked.

“Fresh eyes. Fresh energy,” said Morrissey. “Other people want to serve and they should have the right to serve.”

He then used the anecdote of a candidate losing an election.

“You gain a certain amount of expertise and then you don’t get elected again,” said Morrissey. “What I’m trying to do is to bring something new, some out of the box thinking ... is there anything wrong with that?”

“No,” said Underwood.

Councilor Jim Ferris agreed with Morrissey.

“I guess elections have consequences, don’t they?” said Ferris.

Councilor Suzy Tubbs-Avakian reminded the council it’s hard to find volunteers.

Michele Nelson / Photos by Michele Nelson/Roundup  

Councilor Suzy Tubbs-Avakian and Vice Mayor Janell Sterner.

“I can tell you it is difficult to find people that volunteer,” she said. “Anyone that takes the time to fill out a packet, I respect.”

Councilor Steve Smith said, “It is difficult to fill positions. We’ve had some of these vacancies for quite some time ... what I just wanted to know, were all the other citizens that put in applications considered?”

Morrissey assured Smith they were.

“I did consider those applications,” he said, but added, “I have the power and the authority and I have the responsibility to fill those positions.”

One of Morrissey’s recommendations was Barbara Buntin, who served as Morrissey’s and Suzy Tubbs’ campaign manager. Darlene Younker was also nominated, she served as Ferris’ campaign manager.

Smith said he would like to make an informed decision, but at least one application didn’t provide enough information.

“There was one application that had nothing filled out ... I would just like to know about that applicant,” he said.

“That person submitted a resumé,” said Morrissey.

After the meeting, Councilor Chris Higgins shared the packet of applications with the Roundup. Another applicant had submitted a resumé, but not the applicant Smith wanted to know more about.

Underwood agreed that finding volunteers is difficult, but then asked specifically about Scott Helmer. This provoked a heated discussion.

Morrissey recommended Helmer for the Planning and Zoning Commission. Helmer is a business owner in Payson; although he has a home in Star Valley.

Underwood questioned whether Payson could legally appoint someone who lived in another community to a town committee.

“According to the county ... you pay taxes at 19 Moonlight Drive (in Star Valley),” she said.

Helmer said he used his business address for his voter registration — and also spends most of his nights at his fiancé’s Payson home. “That is where I lay my head,” he said.

Bystricky reminded the council she had given them a letter that “was covered by outside council when she wrote those documents,” and “attorney-client privilege,” relating to the issue of Helmer.

Bystricky continued, “If he is running against campaign laws that might be an issue submitted to the attorney general’s office for investigation.”

The mayor said, “I asked them to fill these positions and so they are not campaigning. I’m campaigning for them.”

Higgins said his reading of the town code suggests the parks and recreation commission must recommend new appointees to the council.

“Isn’t it in the code that ... the role of the parks and rec commission is to suggest to the mayor qualified and interested persons available for the parks and rec commission? If that is not done, that is a violation of the town code,” he said.

Morrissey replied, “It is clear to me that I have the right to appoint to the parks and rec commission those that are qualified. I strongly oppose your recommendation.”

A motion to ask for the recreation commission’s recommendations failed on a 4-3 vote.

Higgins later said he would have liked to have seen Nancy Gartner and Todd Braeger, who served on the Parks and Recreation Commission re-appointed and John Swenson re-appointed to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Another motion to hold off on approving Helmer’s appointment also failed on a 4-3 vote, with Underwood, Higgins and Smith on one side and Tubbs, Janell Sterner and Ferris siding with the mayor.

The motion to approve the mayor’s other recommendations passed with the same split vote.