WASHINGTON – The House on Monday approved a bill aimed at clearing up six years of what one Arizona lawmaker called a “ridiculous jurisdictional battle” over control of the C.C. Cragin Dam and Reservoir Project in Coconino County.
The dispute has stalled pipeline projects that draw water from the dam for towns like Payson, a 15,000-person town in Gila County, which relies on Cragin for its water.
“This is simply not a tenable situation,” Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Flagstaff, said on the House floor immediately before lawmakers approved the bill Monday on a voice vote.
Gosar sponsored the measure, which puts the Forest Service in charge of land use on the project and gives the
Bureau of Reclamation final say on Cragin operations.
In 2005, ownership of the dam was transferred from
Salt River Project to the Department of the Interior, which oversees the Bureau of Reclamation. But the Forest Service maintained that it had authority over the dam, which is in a national forest, and had an agreement with Salt River Project to maintain it.
It was never clear who had final jurisdiction, and as the question lingered, repairs and upgrades were held up.
Payson got $10.6 million in federal stimulus funds for a water pipeline project connected to the reservoir, but the town has not been able to break ground. The town has acquired all the piping and has nearly finished engineering on the project, said Buzz Walker, Payson’s water superintendent.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans said the snafu and later political bickering in Washington has hurt his town’s employment by stalling the stimulus-funded water pipeline.
“If we can get through all the bluster and posturing, this bill would pass the Senate and the president would sign it in a heartbeat,” Evans said in a phone interview Monday. “We have people (in Washington) who want to fight rather than fix.”
But Monday’s vote was not the end of the issue. As the measure awaits Senate approval, repairs and construction on Cragin’s pipes and infrastructure are still stuck in standby mode.
And the bill was not the first of its kind: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, sponsored legislation in previous sessions of Congress, but Gosar’s is the first to make it to a floor vote.
A similar measure by McCain this session has been approved in committee and is waiting for a Senate floor vote.
Although the House bill has faced no outward opposition, Gosar said there’s no guarantee the issue will come to a swift close.
“You never say never until you see the signature on the dotted line,” he said.
Evans bemoaned the fact that the Obama administration awarded the town stimulus money in an attempt to create jobs, but that bickering by administration agencies have kept the town from reaching that goal.
“The fight has been about who gets to be the gatekeeper, who gets to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and that’s really sad,” he said.
The Cragin bill passed on the same day the House approved a measure to increase the number of communities receiving power from the Hoover Dam in 2017. The measure would create a pool of 5 percent of Hoover Power’s capacity, which would be allocated to new customers
The new pool would largely be created from expanded capacity that is not now included in Hoover’s contracts with its three state customers – Arizona, Nevada and California. The bill would not likely have a material change for the utilities in those states, said Steve Hulet, SRP’s manager of supply and trading.