Tue, June 18

Where we get our water

It didn’t take long for townspeople to react to the recent decision approving an intergovernmental agreement between Camp Verde and the Yavapai-Apache Nation.

A referendum petition to place the matter on an upcoming ballot for a public vote is currently under way.

One of the organizers of the petition, LeRoy Hunter, said, “A referendum is a process by which citizens are able to use the ballot box to overturn actions taken by the town council,” and this is a “first-ever referendum to overturn a decision made by the Camp Verde Town Council.”

He said reaction to the petition so far has been “very good,” and he expects to have the necessary signatures in time to request the referendum.

Town Clerk Debbie Barber said the earliest the matter could be on a ballot would be the general election of May 2001, unless the town council voted to initiate a special election.

The IGA was the result of four months of negotiations between the town and the Y-A Nation. It grew out of the town’s dispute with the nation over the sand-and-gravel mining operation on residentially zoned property in the town limits near Arizona 260 and Old Highway 279.

The town’s adopted version of the IGA states that, “Currently, the land is owned by the Yavapai-Apache Nation in fee simple. The Nation believes that its current use of the land is legal pursuant to the town’s mining ordinance. The town believes that the Nation’s current use of the land is illegal. In order to avoid protracted litigation concerning the Nation’s use of the land, the town and the Nation agree that the following procedures shall be followed.”

The document goes on to state conditions for a use permit, a planned area development application and dispute resolution. There are also conditions on trust status, in-lieu fees and other aspects of concern to both sides.

The Camp Verde Town Council voted in favor of the document 4-3 on Aug. 23. According to the conditions of the IGA, the Y-A Nation has 30 days to respond.

The “No On the IGA” petition, requiring 132 registered Camp Verde voters’ signatures, is due to the town clerk’s office by Sept. 25, according to Town Clerk Debbie Barber. Once the petition is received, Barber said the signatures are verified through the county and if there is a significant amount of signatures, the issue then goes on an upcoming ballot.

She said if this happens, the council’s decision goes into a “limbo state.”

“It’s not law until the voters vote on it,” she confirmed.

However, the IGA is far from a “done deal.” Without approval from the Nation, the IGA is not valid.

Yavapai-Apache representatives have already said they will not vote in favor of the document as is and have encouraged town officials to return to the negotiating table.

Yavapai-Apache Chairman Vincent Randall has publicly stated the proposed IGA was “not what was negotiated.” Even if the IGA is signed by the Nation, the town’s General Plan must be amended and approved by a majority vote of the council before the IGA is finalized. An amendment to the mining ordinance, another conditional element of the IGA, was recently approved by the council. It too appears to be meeting resistance from some Camp Verdeans (see related story).

In spite of the fact that total approval of the IGA remains iffy, Hunter said the petition process will move forward.

According to Barber, there is only a 30-day window allowed to gather signatures once the IGA was passed and available to the public.

It’s beginning to look as though the town has backed itself into a litigation corner, the one aspect it has attempted to avoid. It could come from one of two sources.

A neighbor to the mining operation, Chuck Peterson, who has been fighting the sand-and-gravel operation since its inception, is still threatening to sue. He and other neighbors, he said, are waiting to see what happens.

“If the Nation decides to approve and sign that document, then we’ll definitely have to look at the litigation issues again. Our property values have really taken a beating. The folks out there have had their lives totally disrupted for an activity (mining) without a permit,” he maintains.

If the IGA is not signed by the Nation, it is likely the town and the Nation will come to odds over the whole mining operation, which could inevitably end in a long and arduous legal battle.

“If they (the Nation) hold to their word (do not sign the IGA), then it will be up to town administrators to enforce the zoning ordinance,” Peterson added.

Peterson said he is definitely “behind” the referendum process. He said once on the ballot, he is urging people to vote for it.

Peterson believes the mining issue, at the core of the development of the IGA, is now a secondary issue. He maintains the trust status issue as discussed in detail in the IGA has now moved into a primary position of concern. He believes it could adversely impact the town financially and set a precedent for the entire Verde Valley. Hunter, who is a neighbor to the sand-and-gravel operation, agrees the trust status issue is of primary concern to residents.