The Gila County Board of Supervisors recently had the opportunity for a meeting with Sen. Mark Kelly, D-AZ. The informational Zoom work session with the BOS and staff on Feb. 4 included a discussion of COVID-19 response and issues; providing insight into Gila County infrastructure issues as they relate to federal land and jurisdiction.

Kelly requested the supervisors send him a letter briefly outlining the topics discussed, along with requests for help with the issues.

Presenting a draft of the letter to the supervisors Feb. 16, Jacque Sanders, deputy county manager, said, “Given that Gila County is comprised of nearly 95% federal and tribal lands, there are many, many federal issues that could be addressed. The work session of Feb. 23 will cover many of the federal opportunities and issues, review the federal priorities from past years and will provide an opportunity to concentrate on the county’s federal priorities and action plan with the county’s federal lobbyist for 2021.”

Sanders and staff created the draft for consideration by the board, summarizing the discussion and providing initial federal priority requests.

She asked the board to review the letter and give its approval to send to the senator on Tuesday, Feb. 16.

She listed the priorities in the order they were discussed in the Zoom meeting:

COVID-19

The Gila County Health Department in partnership with local health providers has worked hard to ensure that residents are receiving vaccinations in a timely fashion.

Residents are frustrated with the limited supply of vaccine, and the inconsistent messaging regarding which groups are eligible to sign up and receive the vaccine. The county would like more vaccines and additional resources to administer the doses.

Help for small businesses to remain in operation and continue to provide employment is essential and urgent.

Broadband expansion

As experienced firsthand during the Zoom call, Supervisor Christensen was dropped from the meeting. Gila County does not have and urgently needs reliable broadband necessary to function in today’s technologically dependent environment for education, telemedicine, business and government, according to the letter.

Gila County’s vision for broadband is providing internet service that is reliable, affordable and available countywide.

It has contracted with Kimley Horn to plan the first, middle and last mile and costs and high level of infrastructure it will require.

Critical Access:

Forest Roads needingimprovement and paving• Forest Highway 512 provides access from Highway 260 to the community of Young across national forest land. While improvements and paving projects have been accomplished over the past 23 years, 15 miles of this road are still unpaved and present a challenge and danger to the residents, emergency response vehicles, and commerce to this community.

• Tonto Forest Road 64 along with Tonto Forest Roads 29 and 32 (Control Road) provides necessary access for residents from Highway 260 to Highway 87 between the communities of Christopher Creek and Pine.

If improved and paved, these roadways would provide critical all-weather access for residents that are often stranded during weather events and wildfires as well as provide critical access for emergency responders. If paved, this would provide an important alternate route when either of the two highways becomes closed.

• Forest Road 60 (A Cross Road) connects the east side residents of Tonto Basin with Highway 288 along the north side of Roosevelt Lake and would provide emergency access and an alternate route, should Highway 188 become closed.

The supervisors had an extended discussion about the roads. Steve Christensen, District 1, said he’d like to see the letter address only the road issues and the elimination of the A Cross Road. He said the other issues could be addressed in separate letters to the senator at another time.

Woody Cline, District. 3, said he did not see the county getting a huge amount of money for anything, but agreed to eliminate A Cross Road. He suggested asking for just a single pot of money to allocate as the county saw fit.

County Manager James Menlove said, from what he is hearing from Washington, D.C., the county would be best served by submitting a single project for infrastructure assistance.

Tim Humphrey, District 2, said with the funds coming to the county for the Tonto Creek bridge, he would accept eliminating the A Cross Road and putting money to a project in the northern part of the county.

Sanders said infrastructure also includes broadband and water. In the past, asking for a pot of money had little success, she said.

She added every federal award must be matched with 5.7% from the county.

Cline asked if there have been any environmental studies done on the Control Road and the 512 Road.

Steve Sanders, director of Public Works, said studies have been made on 512 as it was scheduled to be fully paved several years ago. Studies were made on limited spots on Control Road where its improved bridges were built.

Steve Sanders said the Control Road would cost a lot more, structures need to be built and it needs widening. He said the 512 Road is wide enough and no structures are needed, except culverts.

Cline asked how much money would the county have available for a match.

Steve Sanders said he did not know, but budget meetings start next week and the county can probably use the half-cent excise tax for the match to the Tonto Creek bridge project, which is about $3 million, according to Menlove.

“I would be afraid not to try, and (any work) would be several years out,” Steve Sanders said.

Humphrey said since the 512 Road had studies completed, it would probably be the best priority.

Sanders asked for clarification on whether the supervisors wanted the proposed four bullet points or just one, and on roads, should the letter just include the 512 Road and the Control Road.

Humphrey asked Christensen if he wanted to change his recommendation. He said he did not want to change his suggestion.

Menlove said there is not a problem with putting in more than one request and there is no conflict of interest. Different staff and committees would address each item, so there would be no conflict of interest.

Humphrey said he’d like to see the four bullet points.

Cline said he didn’t think the supervisors were ready for a motion. “I have a lot of problems with the Control Road too. The 512 Road is closer to being ready to go.”

He questioned including the Sierra Ancha Wilderness on the list. There has been a lot of money spent on that, but it doesn’t really fit. He said support is needed more than money.

Humphrey again asked Christensen if he still just wanted to submit the one issue. He said he would like to see the issues reorganized to make the roads the top priority.

Humphrey said he wanted the multiple bullet points.

Sanders said it is her understanding that they will be working on a COVID-19 relief package and an infrastructure package. She said they realize these are not the county’s only concerns, but the letter is an introduction to the most critical issues. The letter will be followed-up with more details of needs.

“This thanks him for taking the time to meet with us. It is not that often we get 30 minutes with a senator,” Sanders said.

Re-Alignment of Wilderness

Boundary to re-open ForestRoad 203 (Cherry Creek Road)The Sierra Ancha Wilderness boundary as identified on maps takes in a portion of Forest Road 203 (Cherry Creek Road), which existed for decades prior to the wilderness designation and provides the only access for residents, landowners, and emergency responders to the area.

The draft was approved, with removal of A Cross Road and the additions to broadband.

Contact the reporter at tmcquerrey@payson.com

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