A crowd of Sedona area residents gathered at the Sedona Fire District board meeting Wednesday night to speak against construction of an alternative route. The fire board heard from the first 10 speakers, who all voiced their opposition before the agenda item.
At issue was presentation of a draft feasibility study for an alternative route.
The alternative route issue has gnawed at Sedona for a generation. Highway traffic volumes and service volumes for the district have doubled in half that time. The county administration, which would have jurisdiction, has abandoned the priority until Sedona reaches a consensus.
The fire board, which is interested in emergency response, is taking a different approach. Its consultant study also has found a new alternative route crossing of the Oak Creek.
According to Fire Chief Matt Shobert, the district needs to investigate how to better serve the rapidly growing area, on both sides of the creek around the Red Rock Crossing. The district needs a fire station there but, because Oak Creek lies between the two booming service areas, the district will be forced to build two fire stations unless there is a way to cross Oak Creek.
"It doesn't make sense to spend millions on new facilities and still not be able to respond to the entire area," explains the chief.
In the new study, Ray Wrobley and Southwestern Environmental Consultants review many studies that have addressed an alternative over the past 20 years. It recaps the traffic volumes, congestion and accident history on SR 179, and the timeline of past alternative studies. Wrobley says the study needed "to step back, look at the old studies and see what has changed."
He says there is only a "small gap" along the creek where an alternative route would be cost effective. All options would pass through the Forest Service recreation area. The Red Rock Crossing option has become too volatile. The Back of Beyond option, while avoiding the Verde Valley School Road impacts, would dramatically reduce the fire district's emergency response.
For the first time, the study introduces a new route to cross the creek, dubbed the "Crescent Moon" option. It would bridge the creek about one quarter mile upstream from the traditional Red Rock Crossing location.
Wrobley says the new proposal is "better screened" from view because of the heavy tree canopy in that area. Because of the topography it would have a "lower bridge profile." The option also pulls away from the trailer park, center of opposition to a new crossing.
Shobert says proposal is "good news" because the investigation has been "stuck in a rut of options."
It is important to "get the dialogue started again," according to the consultant. "When the Beaverhead Flats Road was paved, many people believed the problem was solved. Nothing has happened since then."
The board took no action after the presentation, but the fire chief says he will now do homework to determine the costs of building new fire stations and the associated manpower and equipment. That will present "the cost the taxpayers and a change in their levy" of the improvements. He explains that way the public can see that cost as an option against the cost of alternative routes.
The fire district has a "supermajority of the board in favor of continuing this agenda," according to Shobert. The agency must now build partnerships with other players from the city and county so that there can be a collaborative effort.