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|Forest Service plugs pipeline repair plans|
|Written by Michelle A. Monroe|
|Thursday, 16 February 2012 22:11|
Tombstone is no closer to getting its main water pipeline fixed.
Last summer’s wildfires and rains primed the area around the pipeline for mudslides, which brought Volkswagen-sized boulders down on the gravity-powered aqueduct. The pipeline, located in the Huachuca Mountains, was severely damaged and Tombstone’s main water supply was cut off.
Repairs began but quickly ended when U.S. Forest Service officials refused to allow equipment into the area for environmental impact reasons. The city sued the federal agency and has been stuck in court for weeks.
Tombstone officials said they feel hung out to dry, as their quest to quench the city’s thirst remains blocked by the U.S. Forest Service.
The two parties participated in mediation on Friday, and a tentative agreement was almost reached until Forest Service officials backed out at the last second.
“We met with them all day, the mediator did a wonderful job of getting both sides together to come up with an agreement but at the end of the day the Forest Service could not make a decision because they didn’t send anyone to mediation who had the authority to decide,” Mayor Jack Henderson said.
The U.S. Forest Service will not comment on ongoing litigation.
City officials said they hoped to get a temporary restraining order on the Forest Service.
“As we were approaching late afternoon it became obvious that the U.S. Forest Service wanted them to do a court order so they didn’t have to make a decision,” said George Barnes, city clerk and city manager. “The temporary restraining order would have allowed us to have used the equipment we needed and to access one set of springs that we know are available and flowing at this time of year.”
The only section that has been completed so far is Miller, and crews are working to connect Garden but it’s slow going with the allowed equipment.
“We have a mine field to navigate to protect it properly,” Barnes said of the repairs. “The other springs are a totally new deal now.”
Barnes said the goal for completing work is before March 1, but it looks unlikely.
“We’re trying with all our might to get it done before March 1 but every time we turn around they’re dragging out another week,” Barnes said. “We’ve made no progress since December. We’re putting pipe in but it’s nothing compared to what we could have done.”
The repairs are time sensitive because the pipeline is located in many animals’ habitat and repair crews could cause problems for the local animals.
“They’ll say it’s still habitat and we can’t be there, but it’s not habitat anymore since it burned and the mudslides,” Barnes said. “The animals that owls hunt and other animals, they aren’t there. It’s destroyed. But they’ll still argue that it’s habitat.”
When Gov. Jan Brewer declared a state of emergency for Tombstone in August, the city was given around $50,000 in emergency funds, but those funds were set to expire this month.
“We had just under $50,000 in costs, but with all the delays and court dates, we’re probably closer to $100,000 now,” Barnes said.
After being stonewalled by the U.S. Forest Service, the city requested more time and the Arizona Department of Emergency Management extended the funds through April 6.
Representatives from the department traveled this week to the canyons to inspect the repairs.
“They’ll be here to look at the work we’ve done,” Barnes said. “It’s complex for what’s allowed for refunding. We’ll do the best we can with it.”