The on-again off-again debate over an alternative route between West Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek is back on.
This time, instead of just sending in a resolution of support, the Sedona Fire District has taken a seat at the organizing table and could contribute some funding to finding a route.
The Sedona Council and the Fire District held a joint meeting this week surrounded by a crowd of 120 to decide the next step. The Sedona City manager described the crowd, divided over the issues, as "passionate."
For Sedona Fire Chief Matt Schobert the need hinges on Sedona growth. He says, "one day Highway 260 will be as crowded as Highway 69 through Prescott Valley today and growth will make traffic through Sedona on Highway 89A even more dense. In addition proposed roundabouts on Highway 179 could slow drive times as well," says Schobert.
As a public safety manager for the Greater Sedona Area, the Chief says, "the situation will worsen."
New Sedona development is building at the end of Verde Valley School Road and on the Loop Road area. The two areas are side by side, but 10 miles apart by road.
The Sedona Fire Chief would rather build one new fire station to serve the area rather than two.
A fire station location needs to be able to provide service in 360 degrees around itself to be efficient according to Schobert. But when the area is blocked by Oak Creek that service area would be reduced to180 degrees.
As for the Sedona Council, it went on record recently as supporting an alternative route, even naming the hotly debated Red Rock Crossing as a potential option.
Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis is not keen to re-visit the issue. He is still smarting from the gunfire from the two sides of the debate shortly after his election in 1996. He has vowed not to return to the issue until the proponents and opponents of an alternative route can agree. He's willing to listen if the City takes the lead this time, but is not willing to consider a route over Red Rock Crossing at all.
Two roads approach the Oak Creek from opposite directions but have not spanned the waterway since 1978 when Yavapai County failed to restore the low water crossing washed out in flood conditions.
The key to jump starting a new alternate roadway according to the Forest Service is a "NEPA" analysis. The National Environmental Policy Act governs the use of public land across the country and demands that all options be considered before a decision is made. Any route that would cross the creek is on public land.
Sedona City Manager Eric Levitt says Red Rock District Ranger Ken Anderson told the combined boards that the environmental analysis can cost from a quarter to a half million dollars. But, that price tag could jump to a million dollars if the issue is complex and clouded.
His job will be to find a consultant familiar with the NEPA process and craft a scope of work that is small and targeted.
Cost is definitely an issue," according to Levitt.
The issue will return to the FireBoard at its next regular meeting October 25. The Sedona Council will consider the issue again when Levitt has a tight game plan and an experienced consultant.
When asked if taxpayer money is well spent on a NEPA analysis, Schobert says, "if a bridge is built, only one future fire house will be needed, but if not the money would probably be spent to equip two facilities."
Schobert says the FireBoard recognizes there are two sides to the alternative crossing issue. But the Chief says "from a pure emergency response and preparedness perspective, an alternative route is essential to efficient operation of Fire District."