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Pia Wyer / Pia Wyer/Roundup  

The Hashknife Pony Express rode through Payson on Wednesday afternoon and stopped to visit with the public at the Payson post office. Riders braved snow, rain and frigid winds to keep their tradition alive. See Tuesday’s paper for additional photos and information about this year’s ride.

Star Valley mayor recovering

Star Valley’s mayor remains in a Valley intensive care unit after going into cardiac arrest on the operating table last week.

Ronnie McDaniel went in to have a stent put in to unblock an artery and during the procedure went into cardiac arrest, said Town Manager Tim Grier.

It was unclear if McDaniel would recover, but recently showed signs of improvement, opening his eyes and becoming more responsive, Grier said.

He is at a Valley Banner cardiac intensive care unit. Family and close friends have been at his side, including son Tony McDaniel, Grier said, who also visited McDaniel.

“While we know there is a long path ahead of him, we know if any one can do it he can,” he said.

Grier said the family is grateful for the outpouring of support and thanks everyone in the community for their thoughts and prayers.

Star Valley canceled its Feb. 5 council meeting.

“We are shocked to our core with the news,” he said. “He is our leader and we didn’t want to pretend like we were marching on.”

The council is planning to hold the Feb. 19 meeting and town hall remains open.

McDaniel helped incorporate Star Valley with his wife Diane McDaniel in 2005. He was the town’s first mayor and was re-elected in August.

“We try to guide our decisions by what we think Ronnie would do,” he said. “He would want us to continue. He is foremost in our thoughts and we are hoping he continues to show improvements.”

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Main Street Merchants Guild has big plans

The Main Street Merchants Guild is serious about their ongoing work to revitalize the street and preserve the history doing so.

The group gathered for their monthly meeting Tuesday to discuss a wide range of projects and encourage people to take ownership of different projects by forming organizational committees.

Minette Hart, guild president, reviewed the plan adopted at the previous meeting, and stressed the importance of business owner and resident participation.

The plan divides projects into four segments: Organization, Promotion, Design and Business Enhancement. Some of the topics discussed were:

Chamber signage

There will be a new electronic, programmable sign on a stacked stone pedestal outside the chamber to advertise local events. Per Town of Payson ordinance, there will be no business advertising on the sign.

Wendy Larchick, a member of the chamber board, lauded the Payson Town Council and mayor for being “open to developing relationships with the chamber.” She advocated communication between non-profits working on similar projects.

Artistic bike racks

Trevor Fleetham, with Town of Payson Community Development, reported the town applied for a $10,000 grant to install artistic bike racks along Main Street. They will know by Feb. 22 if they have received the grant. If so, they will be looking for businesses to co-sponsor a bike rack. This grant is offered twice a year. The next one is in July.

Payson Adventure Race

The second annual Payson Adventure Race is scheduled for April 27. It is a scavenger-hunt-style team/family run. Teams will race to complete a variety of challenges, “mental, physical and some that are just plain silly and designed to bring a laugh to everyone’s face,” states a handout offered at the meeting.

Money raised in the race will go toward new sports equipment for the middle school.

Last year, they raised $3,000. Contact Payson Premier Dental or Payson Orthodontics for more information. They are sponsoring the event.

Update on proposed micro brewery

Jason Engler, who purchased the old Pieper Saloon, most recently Bootleg Alley, to convert it into a micro brewery also attended the meeting.

“It took us seven months to get the drawings completed,” he said. “Now we’re waiting on an evaluation by a structural engineer. If the building is sound, we will continue. If it needs major remodeling we will not be able to continue with our plan.”

Sawmill whistle

The new compressor for the Sawmill whistle is now in place on the roof of Sawmill Theatres.

Curt Milam, of Milam Crane, Inc. donated his time and equipment. There will be a chamber ribbon cutting in the near future to celebrate the return of the whistle.

The guild meets at 5:15 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month at Community Presbyterian Church, 800 W. Main St.

See part two of this story in Tuesday’s Roundup for updates on ongoing projects discussed at the meeting.

Controversial re-zoning in Pine approved

After several contentious discussions, there is new commercial zoning in Pine.

The Gila County Board of Supervisors Feb. 5 approved a request by the owners of Pine Ice convenience store and gas station, at 4102 N. Beeline Highway, to make the property commercial zoning. It was transitional residential. Rezoning was also approved for an adjoining lot.

With the change, the owners can store vehicles on the vacant lot behind the property.

They are storing vehicles and equipment on the business property.

The rezoning request was met with opposition from some neighboring citizens.

Most outspoken was Patrick Gleason-Moore, who owns the bed and breakfast neighboring the Weeks’ properties.

Gleason-Moore is concerned the vehicles in the lot will destroy the view from his property and bring undue noise and lights.

When the commission in December 2018 approved the conditions for the rezoning, Gleason-Moore was asked if they addressed his concerns.

He indicated they did for the most part, but then he came back to the BOS with a list of complaints about the process and the behavior of members of the commission.

At the Feb. 5 meeting he spoke in opposition again. He told the board the bed and breakfast was his home and he still had issues with the Community Development staff’s report. He added the county should consider his property historical.

Other citizen concerns included accessing the highway, which will be handled by ADOT, county officials said.

The county Community Development Department reported to the BOS that its review and visits to the site found the request for rezoning is compatible with the Gila County Comprehensive Plan and the Pine-Strawberry Community Plan.

Getting the properties rezoned does not mean the owners, the family of the late Tom Weeks, will skate into making the changes they propose.

In approving the rezoning, the county included a list of conditions the owners must meet, including a plan must be approved prior to any vehicles or equipment being moved onto the parcel.

In addition, any lighting must be hooded and directed away from adjacent properties and they must install a 6-foot-high opaque fence or wall.

Vehicles can only be moved between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. and no vehicles can be left to idle or refrigeration units left to run while located on parcel two.

Roundup file photo  

Wendy Larchick was recently named one of REAL Trends America’s Best Real Estate Agent.

Payson residents alarmed over empty lots

Every morning when Wayne Sparks gets up and looks over his fence, he imagines what an errant ember, tossed cigarette butt or wayward firecracker would do to his neighbor’s brush-choked yard.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” he said.

Michele Nelson / Michele Nelson/Roundup  

Wayne Sparks points to the empty lot next to his home. He has complained numerous times to the town. The fire department recently inspected the property but found it acceptable.

Because limbs from the neighbor’s tree lie against his roof, he’s sure his house would go up in flames if the brush and weeds next door spread flames to the thickets of small trees.

Across the street, Darlene Cleeton, has the same concerns about an empty lot next to her home.

“See how tall the grass is?” she said pointing to the waist-high dry grass.

What frustrates them both: They have no remedy because Payson’s Firewise and nuisance codes are weak.

Michele Nelson / By Michele Nelson/roundup staff reporter  

The trees from the empty lot next to Wayne Sparks near his roofline. Sparks wishes he had permission to remove the trees.

The council has talked about a new ordinance for years, but has never taken action.

“I wish the town would pass an ordinance with some teeth to force these lazy property owners to clear their lots,” said Sparks.

The Payson Fire Department urged the town council to adopt a wildland-urban interface building code for future construction. The department also recommended the town adopt a Firewise code to make it easier for the town to force property owners to clear dangerously overgrown lots. Only a few minor amendments to the existing building code actually passed.

So, that leaves the burden on homeowners — with no effective way to convince the owners of even dangerously overgrown lots in the neighborhood to clean up.

Michele Nelson / By Michele Nelson/roundup staff reporter  

The empty lot near Darlene Cleeton’s home. She also worries about a fire starting in this abandoned lot.

Sparks has cleared his lot of brush, trimmed his trees and regularly rakes up the pine needles.

But next door, the abandoned lot has knee-high dry grass, shaggy trees and empty buildings, with mattresses and other flammable material inside.

Sparks has called the fire department and filed complaints with the town’s Community Development office.

“I’ve called the fire department three times,” he said. “I have filed complaints at the development office.”

Payson Fire inspected the property next to Sparks, but found no immediate concerns.

“We found the property to be generally in fair to good condition,” wrote a PFD official. “The tree limbs were trimmed from the ground and the overall condition of the ground litter was minimal. There is growth of grass, on the average of 16 – 24 inches in length, which covers the property in various areas, but not in totality.”

The concerns of Sparks and Cleeton have stumped governing agencies from the federal to the local level.

How do neighbors convince neighbors to clean up?

A U.S. Forest Service and Colorado State University study found that “engaging residents in doing some type of behavior, no matter how small, provides an important first step to broader adoption of Firewise actions.”

Overcoming Barriers to Firewise Actions by Residents

However, when provided a list of Firewise recommendations, almost half of property owners “identified an obstacle for at least one of the recommended actions,” concluded the report.

The report recommended several strategies to build support for fire-adapted building codes and clearing:

• Messaging — Consider the different socio-demographic, situational and psychological reasons communities respond uniquely to Firewise messages.

• Firewise construction is harder to sell than defensible space. However, construction codes and insurance could promote use of Firewise materials. “Some community programs or policies, such as retrofitting assistance or building codes, might play a significant role in actions that are expansive or more technically involved.”

• Sense of community can activate support for Firewise building and defensible space codes. “Community leaders might seek to establish short-term goals for encouraging Firewise behavior and not be discouraged easily as it will likely take time to build an effective Firewise program.”

• Communicate regularly about the effectiveness of Firewising.

Sparks said he wishes he could do something about the threat to his property.

“I can’t legally go in there and cut trees down, I’d be arrested for vandalism,” he said. “I’d love to see someone get a dozer in there and ... thin it out and clear it up like it’s supposed to be.”

He said when the 100-degree, windy, fire weather comes, he gets really worried.

In the meantime, he’s waiting for the weather to warm up so he can rake his needles.

Pipe bomb found in woods

The Gila County Sheriff’s Office is investigating who left a pipe bomb in the forest in Star Valley.

A Star Valley man found the homemade device around 3 p.m. Feb. 3 in the wooded area behind in his home, which is northeast of North Quail Run Road.

The pipe bomb, wrapped in electrical tape with screws, was sitting below some trees, said Lt. Tim Scott with the GCSO. He said they are not sure how long the device had been there, but it appeared to have been several weeks.

Deputies took a picture of the bomb and sent it to the Arizona Department of Public Safety explosives ordnance disposal unit. Around 6 p.m., DPS bomb squad members disabled and disposed of the bomb.

This is an active investigation and if you have any information regarding this incident, you are asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at 928-425-4449 or you can remain anonymous by calling WETIP at 800-78-CRIME.

Gila County photo  

Roy Sandoval