WASHINGTON – The Senate has passed and sent to the president a bill that should end years of confusion over which federal agency has jurisdiction over the C.C. Cragin Dam and Reservoir in Coconino County.
The bill, which passed late Tuesday night by unanimous consent, would give the Bureau of Reclamation the ability to approve projects on the Cragin Dam and and its pipelines, and it would let the Forest Service control the land and wildlife there.
Doing so clears the way for the town of Payson to spend $10.6 million in stimulus funds for pipeline projects to the dam. The 15,000-person town draws its water from the reservoir behind the dam.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans said that if President Barack Obama signs the bill, new jobs related to those pipeline projects could be created within 60 days. The permitting process can be done in weeks, he said.
“By early in the spring, we’ll be rolling and going,” Evans said.
The legislation – H.R. 489 – resolves a six-year dispute between the Bureau of Reclamation and Forest Service over which agency could approve work on the dam and connected projects. The matter was unclear when the Reclamation Bureau acquired the dam and reservoir from Salt River Project in 2005. The Forest Service oversees the Coconino National Forest, where the pipelines run.
Repairs have slowed because of the squabble, and the construction of a water pipeline to Payson that is supposed to be paid for with $10.6 million in stimulus funds could not break ground.
“It’s sad that we even have to do this,” Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Flagstaff, said Wednesday night. “This is a dispute between two federal agencies, and we have to pass legislation.”
Gosar, who sponsored the bill, said open lines of communication between all the parties affected by the legislation was a key element in passing the bill “even in this time of partisan bickering.”
It was partisan bickering that worried Evans most before the bill was passed. He said he feared it could have been lost in a logjam of legislation as Washington continued its battle over spending.
Similar bills sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, were introduced in previous legislative sessions but never made it as far as a floor vote. One of McCain’s offerings was awaiting a floor vote when Gosar’s legislation passed this week.
Evans said it is hard to give a good reason why it took so long to clear up the issue.
“There’s not been a single substantial issue,” he said. “It’s not been about, ‘There’s this endangered species.’ … They were all procedural issues.”
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said in a news release that he and McCain were pleased to see the bill passed.
Within minutes of its approval Tuesday night, Evans had received calls from staffers for several members of Arizona’s congressional delegation.
“I know for Washington, it’s just a little deal,” he said, “but for us, it’s big.”