Council approves water pipeline-related contracts

PRESCOTT - Despite an attempt by local Verde River advocates to slow down the project this week, the Prescott City Council took another step toward the proposed Big Chino Water Ranch pipeline.

In a 6-1 vote Tuesday, the council approved several hundred thousand dollars worth of contracts for services that will prepare for the acquisition of the right-of-way necessary for the 30-mile proposed pipeline.

The contract award was the latest step in Prescott and Prescott Valley's multi-million-dollar plans to begin transporting water from the Paulden-area Big Chino Basin to the tri-city area by 2009.

The decision came after council members heard pleas from nearly a dozen residents who urged the city to postpone such expenditures until after it gets more information about the effects the pumping would have on the Verde River.

Several speakers noted that the city has yet to come up with a plan for mitigation of the possible impacts of pumping from the Big Chino Basin, which helps feed the headwaters of the Verde River.

"Before you proceed on the pipeline or any other further steps ... we need to have an environmental impact statement," area resident Leslie Hoy told the council.

Councilman Bob Roecker maintained that "lest the citizens think we've been sitting on our hands," the city has taken a number of steps toward mitigation of the impacts of pumping.

For instance, he pointed out that the city chose to buy the former JWK Ranch, which he said is 20 miles away from the headwaters of the Verde River, rather than use city-owned property that is closer to the headwaters.

In addition, Roecker said the city has pledged to devote the historically irrigated land that was part of the ranch purchase toward mitigation or achieving safe yield. The city also has paid for a number of monitoring wells that will measure the existing and future groundwater conditions.

"I believe we're on the right path," Roecker said. "We've set up a program to measure what's going on."

But Hoy disputed that any of those steps represent mitigation. "Unfortunately, when it comes to protecting the Verde River, your eyes seem to be closed," she told the council, adding that "trying to pull the wool over our eyes with these phony mitigation plans is not cutting it."

Councilman Robert Luzius, the only member to vote against the contracts relating to right-of-way acquisition, also voiced concerns about proceeding with the project without more information.

"My fear is that the citizens will be forced to pay an exorbitant amount of money for a pipeline that we may not be able to use," he said. "So far, I don't see that we have a mitigation plan that will - pardon the pun - hold water."

The council ultimately approved contracts with: Roger L. Dunlap & Associates for appraisal services, at an estimated total cost of $150,000 Tierra Right of Way Services for acquisition services at an estimated total cost of $200,000; Briggs Appraisal & Consulting for property acquisition oversight services, at an estimated cost of $50,000; and Yavapai Title for title and escrow services for about 100 properties, at an estimated cost of $550 to $900 per title report.

Jim Holt, the city's project manager for the Big Chino Ranch project, said work should begin immediately on the title and appraisal work, while the actual right-of-way acquisition should begin in January. All of the work should be complete by August 2007, he said, "prior to consideration of any construction contracts."

The city will split the cost of the contracts on a 54/46-percent breakdown with Prescott Valley, its partner in the Big Chino Ranch project.

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