Sparks fly over Cottonwood's annexation plans

Mayor Diane Joens: “When the council voted Sept. 16, I stated specifically that we wanted this to be a public process and we wanted to collaborate with the Verde Valley Land Preservation Institute. Cottonwood has committed $10,900 to the Verde River Basin Partnership. We are collaborating and paying into the Water Advisory Committee, and the Northern Arizona Water Users. We have participated in all kinds of original activities. I just can’t fault Cottonwood at all."

Mayor Diane Joens: “When the council voted Sept. 16, I stated specifically that we wanted this to be a public process and we wanted to collaborate with the Verde Valley Land Preservation Institute. Cottonwood has committed $10,900 to the Verde River Basin Partnership. We are collaborating and paying into the Water Advisory Committee, and the Northern Arizona Water Users. We have participated in all kinds of original activities. I just can’t fault Cottonwood at all."

Clarkdale Cornville, the Forest Service and people from Sedona turned out Thursday night to sound off on Cottonwood's proposed annexation at its northern border.

All the speakers criticized Cottonwood for its seemingly hastily called public hearing with little public notice. To that, Mayor Diane Joens responded in true Rodney Dangerfield-fashion. She said the city provides a number of goods and services for the entire Verde Valley, but gets little respect.

Manager Doug Bartosh cited the law requiring that a public hearing must be called at the end of the 30-day waiting period after filing the annexation notice with the county.

Heather Provencio, Forest Ranger for the Red Rock District north of the Verde River, was the first to speak.

She said the forest is required to take a neutral stand on annexation. She noted, however, that according to Cottonwood's stated goal of protecting the land, "annexation is not the way to get there."

She said that there are no lands within the annexation area that are proposed for exchange.

"In fact, I don't see that happening, because we have threatened and endangered species in the area and it is adjacent to Tuzigoot National Monument. We have also talked to the county about acquiring adjacent private lands that would enhance the value of those forest lands and open space."

"I would like to suggest that you meet with representatives of adjacent communities and sit down and discuss other options for protecting open space. Among options is to work through a forest planning process like we did in Sedona. You could also zone land adjacent to the national forest in a way that buffers the forest."

Former Sedona District Ranger Bob Gillies returned to the podium after addressing the council Tuesday during its regular council meeting.

Gillies had calculated that if the annexation went through, the city will acquire 26.5 square miles of public land. "It is difficult for me to understand why," said Gillies.

Mayor Joens responded, that "it is important to protect the land in perpetuity."

Gillies, in turn, said, "The National Forest is a good buffer. The annexation will encourage a trade. Forest land in a city becomes a target for trade."

Joens, retorted, "I can't believe that putting this land in the city limits would change the Forest Service attitude."

Gillies said, "It changes the jurisdiction. The city doesn't become the manager, but it has responsibilities for road maintenance and police service in he area."

Judy Miller, active in the Cornville Community Association, told the council that "Cottonwood has not certainly not shown a willingness to hear from the public, by providing only the barest minimum of a public notice. "

"My suggestion to you is that the City of Cottonwood go beyond the annexation law and do the right thing, by talking to and working with surrounding communities, agencies, interest groups and individuals.

"Cottonwood prides itself on being he economic hub of the Verde Valley," said Miller. "Everybody shops here and pays taxes to Cottonwood. We are all stakeholders that care about the future ... There have been 10 years of planning for open space protection, water, but Cottonwood is thumbing its nose at those efforts. The city has announced the annexation of an inordinately large area without announcing the reasons. Wouldn't it be better to consult and study first. It is not the way to gain support and positively influence a process that is important to all of us."

Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig was also critical of Cottonwood's process.

"We believe there are other ways of protecting this land than annexing it and having the citizens of Cottonwood pay the expense of maintaining this land and providing the increased protection. I think if the Forest Service, Yavapai County and regional communities could get together, we could provide you with a reasonable alternative, in fact, probably a more attractive alternative than annexation would provide. In addition to Cornville, it is also Clarkdale's fervent wish that this land remain open space.

"Clarkdale annexed a parcel in 2001 to prevent the Ruskin land trade and to pre-empt what was happening with the Ruskin land trade at the time. The Forest Service was adamant with us that annexing that land was counterproductive to it remaining open space."

"Mr. Gillies wanted to hear from Clarkdale about leapfrogging around forest lands to get to state trust land. I have been involved with at least six strategic planning discussions that also included discussion of annexation. In none of those cases, did anybody suggest that Clarkdale should leapfrog past any of this land to get to State Trust Land. Everybody on the Clarkdale Council realizes that these trust lands are probably in Cottonwood's sphere of influence and they have never been in our planning area.

"What I think is most important is that we all get together and talk about this. We have a meeting scheduled to talk about this annexation and it might be a good idea to expand that meeting to include some of the other regional players to achieve what you want and everyone wants."

Veteran Council Member Karen Pfeifer did not let that lie. "In the past we have tried to play nice with the annexations of Camp Verde and Ruskin. We didn't file the annexation petitions and they did. You can pretty much understand my mistrust. Things have changed since 2001, but Camp Verde and Cottonwood had an agreement to protect the open space between the city limits. And with Ruskin, we weren't trusted to leave it as open space. What I experienced on the council about playing nice didn't always work. It is not sour grapes, but I am a little bit leery."

Mayor Joens asked about Clarkdale's annexation plans that were outlined in the town's Vision 2020 released in May. "What are your plans? Are we really in this as a team?" she asked.

"The only annexation we are considering now is C-Mountain owned by Clarkdale Minerals that owns a lot of other land in Clarkdale and they have asked us to annex the property and we are proceeding on C-mountain all 400 acres," Von Gausig explained.

"What we learned in our annexation," Von Gausig continued, "is that legally there must be at least one parcel of private land in an annexation. That is how our attorney advised us."

Joens responded, "When the council voted Sept. 16, I stated specifically that we wanted this to be a public process and we wanted to collaborate with the Verde Valley Land Preservation Institute. Cottonwood has committed $10,900 to the Verde River Basin Partnership. We are collaborating and paying into the Water Advisory Committee, and the Northern Arizona Water Users. We have participated in all kinds of original activities. I just can't fault Cottonwood at all.

"It is difficult not to be defensive when we give so much to everyone around us. People are just pounding the city that does everything it can to work together. It is just difficult to hear people that live in the rural areas. There is not a lot of give and take for the City of Cottonwood. Nobody is saying, 'Yeah, that city, they run that CATS bus and they go to Clarkdale, they go to Verde Village and they go to Bridgeport.'"

"There are so many issues we work on like water. We are good neighbors. We helped with bonding for the Town of Clarkdale. We are still carrying the bond so the two can acquire the water company. And we gave you the water company before it was paid off. See, we are a darned good neighbor and a darned good regional player ... We are active and we are a regional player.

"We are impacted, but we never hear about the impacts. We provide the jobs for all the people that want to live in the rural areas and I would just like to feel a little bit more respected when it comes to land planning or anything."

Von Gausig was the first to react. "Well, let me be the first from the town of Clarkdale to thank the city of Cottonwood for all the services they provide on a regional basis. You are absolutely correct. The City of Cottonwood is vital regional player in the Verde Valley and an unrivaled commercial center. If I have been remiss in not thanking the City of Cottonwood, I would like to correct that. I give a sincere apology for not being more appreciative of Cottonwood's role in the Verde Valley."

Joens turned again to Ranger Provencio and asked if Cottonwood could be assured that the lands would never be developed.

"We cannot provide assurance but if the communities do not take care of those private lands around that forest land and don't work to preserve that natural character, those lands may be considered in the future for exchange.

"This is the first time that I have seen in this area that the we are strictly talking about national forest land."

The council agreed that it had moved in the correct direction with the annexation application. Most did agreed that more stakeholders should be invited to a joint meeting Oct. 20.

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