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3:49 AM Sun, Sept. 23rd

Council approves JWK purchase<BR><I>Unanimous vote inks $23 million deal</I>

PRECOTT – A water ranch project that officials have long estimated at a cost of about $55 million suddenly became a $100-million-plus endeavor this week, and dozens of citizens urged the Prescott City Council to slow down its JWK Ranch purchase.

Council members had no interest in postponing their vote, however. During Tuesday's special meeting, they unanimously approved two actions that finalized the $23 million land purchase.

The vote took place in front of more than 150 people who filled the auditorium at the Grace Sparkes Activity Center. And despite Mayor Rowle Simmons' effort to prevent a "circus atmosphere," the meeting featured a mock pirate ship out front, colorful signs in the audience, and frequent applause.

Dominating much of the discussion was the city's release this week of the new cost estimate for the pipeline that would be necessary to transport water from the Paulden-area JWK Ranch to the tri-city area. For months, the cost estimate has fluctuated from about $25 million to about $40 million. But when the estimate came in from the city's engineering firm, it was for nearly $79 million. Officials said early estimates were for just the pipeline, while the updated figure included other necessary features such as booster stations and water tanks.

That fact, as well as the city's earlier development agreement that committed water to development of the thousands of acres at the Granite Dells and Point of Rocks ranches northeast of Prescott, colored much of the discussion on Tuesday.

Bill Richards, for instance, said he was "stunned" when he learned that the cost of the pipeline from the JWK to the tri-city area would be nearly $80 million.

Others noted that, in addition to the $23 million land purchase price, the $80 million price tag for the pipeline would put the total cost for the project in the $100 million range.

Audience members also quizzed the council about why the city had released that information this week, just prior to Tuesday's vote. City officials responded that they just recently heard back from their engineering firm, CIVILTEC.

Many of the speakers also focused on the city's preliminary agreement with Granite Dells and Point of Rocks to provide water for that massive development. Members of the audience maintained that the project appeared to be the main motivation for the city's pursuit of the water from the JWK.

Mark Youngholm called the city's development agreement with the ranches a "one-sided give-away," which he said would enrich the out-of-town business people who plan to develop the ranches. He suggested that the council members put the JWK purchse on the ballot to let the voters decide.

Area resident Thomas Slaback added: "I'm not willing to pay one red cent to subsidize any further development. You're engaging in a gigantic $100 million crapshoot, and I'm not willing to have my tax money support such a project."

Resident George Seaman, who has repeatedly voiced concerns about the purchase, said he was "simply in awe of the way the city is handling this." He maintained that the city was granting a "huge subsidy" to the Granite Dells and Point of Rock ranches.

City Attorney John Moffitt noted that the city's existing development agreement with Point of Rocks and Granite Dells was a preliminary document. The city still has not annexed the property, Moffitt added, and a final agreement would be necessary before the city makes its decision on the water allocation.

Simmons assured the audience members that they would have time to review the final ranch development agreement before the council would make a decision on it. "The entire annexation will be dealt with at a later date," he said.

Along with the barrage of opposition, the council also heard some encouragement from audience members, including three officials from the Town of Prescott Valley.

Prior to its decision to proceed with the purchase, the council approved an intergovernmental agreement with Prescott Valley, which splits the expenses for the JWK project between the two communities on a 54/46-percent breakdown. Under the agreement, Prescott Valley would be entitled to 4,000 acre-feet of the 8,717 acre-feet of water that the city plans to transport from the JWK Ranch, while Prescott would receive the remaining 4,717.

Council members stressed that, despite the claims of audience members that they were rushing the decision, the purchase has been a long-term project. "We've been working on this for five years," said Councilman Steve Blair. "This is not being done in haste."

Tuesday's vote gives the city the authority to bond for its share of the $23 million purchase price. The bonding for the pipeline would come later, and officials supported placing the burden for the additional cost on developers, through higher impact fees.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com