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New organization takes aim at poverty

NAVAJO COUNTY – What began as a commitment to “move the needle on poverty” in Navajo County, has grown into a much more comprehensive effort to support the community.

Northeastern Arizona Community Resource Network logo.

A new not-for-profit organization called the Northeastern Arizona Community Resource Network (NACRN), (pronounced nah-kurn) has been formed that will serve as an umbrella for several helping services. It grew out of a Navajo County Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) subcommittee aimed at addressing poverty.

“Taking care of people’s immediate needs is only a small piece of the puzzle,” says NACRN executive director and Northeastern Arizona Local Workforce Development Executive Director, Stephanie Ray.

“We want to move people to self-sufficiency and I like to say that we need to connect any agency who works with people who are ‘on the continuum between crisis and self-sufficiency,’” she adds.

The Community Resource Network arose out of a desire to connect people with service providers that can help them get food on the table, explained the board in a September 10 interview with the Independent. From there came the realization that residents struggling with food insecurity may have other basic needs such as housing, transportation, medication and child care.

The idea continued to build and solidify into the vision of a local, community resource network dedicated to moving people out of poverty.

The NACRN board has already drafted a formal plan with a three-pronged strategy to build an empowerment center that will help people access services that the Northern Arizona Council on Governments (NACOG) and the Navajo County Community Health Assessment indicates are most needed.

Photo courtesy of AZ@WORK  

“ … (A)t the end of the day we want to move people out of minimum wage, part-time work and into careers that can sustain a family,” says AZ@WORK Northeastern Arizona Local Workforce Development Executive Director and NACRN Executive Director, Stephanie Ray.

Some of those “top unmet needs in Navajo County” include access to food/nutrition, healthcare, housing, prescriptions, transportation and housing-utility assistance.

“We’ve been having conversations (in the county) for about three years,” says Ray. “Now we are in the position to focus on bringing together a diverse group of service providers to serve the community.”

What makes this endeavor unique is that the services will be housed in one location.

The Community Resource Network, led by ARIZONA@WORK, has already formed partnerships with service providers such as REAL AZ Economic Development Council, Navajo County Public Health Services District, NACOG, Northland Pioneer College, White Mountain Catholic Charities, Changepoint Integrated Health, City of Show Low, Summit Healthcare, Arizona Department of Corrections, WellCare/Care 1st Health Plan, Arizona Department of Economic Security, White Mountain Coalition Against Homelessness, Bread of Life Mission, Arizona First Things First and Old Concho Community Assistance Center.

“This will be one coordinated group, one building, one software with the same goal,” says Show Low Chamber of Commerce executive director and NACRN board member Jimmy Applegate. “Using resources in a better way and under one roof is our objective.”

The teamwork with the partners using a three-pronged approach is “aimed at increasing access to resources that elevate individuals and families to self-sufficiency,” according to NACRN’s written proposal.

The first prong involves developing a software platform that allows for a common intake process. The second prong is securing a brick-and-mortar location for the resource center. The third prong will bring additional service providers into the network.

“The goal is to do an intake of sorts,” says Ray. “Then the appropriate service provider can connect the person with the services they need.”

“These will be concrete handoffs too,” adds Ray. “That means step-by-step guidance and follow-up to make sure the person was able to make it to the service provider.”

“Eventually we would like to build (this program) out so that people can self-register which is where the idea of empowerment centers comes in,” explains Ray. “We want to connect people to the tools they need to reach self-sufficiency. That might be job training, life skills training and support, entrepreneurial training.”

“We also want to create supports from the parent/child family paradigm,” assures Ray. “We could have in-house child care, afterschool programs and STEM workspaces for youth.”

“Even though self-sufficiency is the goal,” says Ray, “we recognize that people will need help up front. When people walk into the NACRN door they might need help with a variety of things like registering for SNAP, WIC or ACCCHS and rental assistance programs.”

“We already have a transferable model,” says Justin Harris, a NACRN board member and Senior Community Outreach Liaison with Care1st Health Plan of Arizona in Mesa. “Care1st sponsors an existing resource center in Avondale.”

“What we have found out is that when people come in to apply for WIC or ACCCHS or other state benefits, they also need adult literacy classes or naturalization or support for teen pregnancy,” says Harris.

“We want to improve and move beyond the idea of just handouts and that type of thing,” adds the Ivy Loney, Director of Integrated Health at Summit Healthcare.

“Bringing tomorrow’s jobs to the White Mountains is a priority,” says Chris Davis, Finance Manager of ARIZONA@WORK. “NACRN is more than just welfare; we are a life-skills tool box.”

“ … at the end of the day we want to move people out of minimum wage, part-time work and into careers that can sustain a family,” summarizes Ray.

To date, NACRN has raised $413,000 to rehabilitate an existing building for the proposed Empowerment Center. The process is still in the early stages and the location has not been solidified, however it’s likely the facility will be located in Show Low.

Other grants are in process, and an estimated open date is fall of 2020.

If you are interested in learning more about NACRN or becoming a partner, email stephanie.ray@navajocountyaz.gov or ivy.loney@summitehealthcare.org.

Corrine Ruiz/The Independent  

Season of change Steve Robbins of Mountain Tree Service of Pinetop saws on a huge tree at the corner of Hall Street and White Mountain Road Wednesday morning. Apache Saddle Logging assisted with the project and a rented crane was used to hoist it up. The workers mentioned the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain felt it was a liability and will be landscaping to spruce up the corner.

Crawtoberfest starts tomorrow

LAKESIDE — While crawfish are more commonly associated with the state of Louisiana, people in the White Mountains are no strangers to the tasty freshwater shellfish.

So bring your appetite Saturday, Sept. 21, to the Mountain Meadows Recreation Complex in Lakeside for the 2019 Crawtoberfest event hosted by Summit Healthcare, the Town of Pinetop-Lakeside and the Show Low Chamber of Commerce that features a crawfish boil and eating contest. The event runs from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the complex located at 1101 S. Woodland Rd. in Lakeside.

And what could be more fun that cold beer, crawfish, live music and plenty of Arizona high country clean air? Event organizers said that along with the crawfish boil, vendors will be onsite for shopping, games and prizes, a beer stein hoist, yodeling contest (bring your earmuffs), crawfish races (bring a book), axe throwing, a corset penny pickup, and a crawfish eating contest.

There will also be lots of food vendors for those who want something other than crawfish.

All proceeds from the event benefit Summit Healthcare and the Show Low Chamber. For more information got to showlowchamber.com or to https://one.bidpal.net/crawtoberfest2019/welcome.

Jack Barker Memorial Park construction complete

LAKESIDE — Jack Barker Memorial Park is located on the northeast corner of Johnson Drive and Hwy 260. This site was home for many years to a few nature education signs and a small walking path along Hwy 260. Several ideas have been discussed over the years including community/nature center, chamber of commerce location, a park and more. There just wasn’t enough space for most of the ideas. In 2015 the Town of Pinetop-Lakeside made the decision to move the location of their Christmas tree to this corner. It seemed to be the perfect spot, almost in the center of town to create a new and much more visible location for the beautiful town Christmas display.

In March of 2017 a beloved friend, father and community member, Jack Barker, unexpectedly passed away. Shortly after graduating from law school in 1975 and passing the Arizona State Bar Exam, Jack began practicing law in Phoenix, where he met his wife of 35 years, Sheryl. In the late 1970s, Jack and Sheryl moved from Phoenix to Pinetop. In Pinetop, he served as the attorney for the local hospital, Navapache Regional Medical Center, now Summit Healthcare, Pinetop-Lakeside Sanitary District and Sunrise Ski Area. Jack also served as the town attorney for the Town of Springerville for 13 years and town attorney for the Town of Pinetop-Lakeside for 20 years.

With endless energy, enthusiasm, and a caring spirit, Mr. Barker devoted a tremendous amount of time and his professional skills to serving the community. He was a member of the Blue Ridge School District Board, coached the Sunrise Park Ski Race Team, served as Assistant Scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts of America, and founded the White Mountain Bereavement Group. He spent countless hours serving and advising local businesses, organizations, and nonprofits. Jack left behind a legacy of service to his community and his country, and will be remembered for his love of life, his joyful and giving spirit and his genuine care and respect for others.

As a result of Jack’s love for his family, friends and the Pinetop-Lakeside community, the Jack Barker Memorial Park came to life. Jack’s family and close friends approached the town council with their proposal to build a park funded by donations in Jack’s honor. A committee of friends, family and town staff was formed to begin the planning, design and construction of the park. The perfect location had to be chosen and the undeveloped parcel on the northeast corner of Johnson Drive and Hwy 260 seemed to be the ideal location. The town council approved the plan to create a park in Jack Barkers’ honor at this location and the committee began their work.

The first step was creating the design, with the help of Kathrine Nunn, Engineering Technician and Matt Patterson Public Works Director both with the Town; a beautiful park design was created. The design included a lighted walking path with memorial pavers, stage, benches, bike racks, water feature and lots of landscaping. Now that the design was complete the fundraising needed to begin. The committee began selling memorial pavers, benches, bollard lights, maple trees and collecting other donations. While the committee was busy with fundraising efforts, the town’s staff was busy with finalizing the construction drawings and bid documents. Construction began Sept. 7, 2018, with the wonderful wet winter in White Mountains construction came to a halt until the Spring of 2019, Construction was buttoned up this month.

Contractors poured concrete curbing and the concrete stage. Town staff has laid over 8,000 12x12 pavers on the walking path, planted five maple trees, laid sod and landscaped around the stage. The town staff with assistance of park manager, Frank Naranjo, installed an irrigation system to water all the grass, plants and Christmas tree. The new park has really become a beautiful pocket park very close to the town center. Plans for a grand opening are in the works for the fall. Town staff is very excited to plan new events at the wonderful new park.

We are proud to honor the Legacy of Jack Barker. You can memorialize your loved one or commemorate an event with your own paver. There are still many pavers and bollard lights left for purchase, the pavers are $100 each and the lights are $600. Pavers can be personalized with 3 lines of 20 characters and can be purchased on-line at www.pinetoplakesideaz.gov.

The Jack Barker Memorial Fund will be hosting a golf tournament Saturday, Sept. 21, to continue raising funds for the construction of the park. There are still openings if you are interested in golfing. Call Mayor Stephanie Irwin at 928-367-6621 if you are interested.

4FRI: New approach, with the forest on the line

ARIZONA — The US Forest Service hopes to jump-start stalled forest restoration efforts with a whole new approach to finding contractors to thin 800,000 acres of dangerously overgrown forests.

The Forest Service this week issued its latest “request for proposals” (RFP) for loggers, sawmills, biomass-burning plants and others to sign on for 20-year contracts to clear millions of tons of trees and biomass. The action comes after the Forest Service completely rewrote the rules for contracts to take advantage of the painful lessons of the past decade.

“This is very different from the first time around,” said Cal Joyner, regional forester for the US Forest Service whose domain covers much of the Western U.S. “This time we’re thinking more wide-open in allowing proponents to tell us what they can do. When it comes to adding resilience to the forest to support endangered species and the human communtities nestled in the forest, this is the best proposal we have.”

The RFP represents a key turning point in the world’s most ambitious forest restoration project. The new approach has drawn strong support from experts who have long been critical of floundering efforts to thin millions of acres through the 4-Forests Restoration Initiative (4FRI).

“I’m very happy with the RFP,” said Brad Worsley, president of Novo Power, the only biomass-burning, electrical power plant in Arizona, “mainly because they have prioritized biomass.” The new approach could save the 28-megawatt power plant from shutting down in the next four years, depending on the response of industry.

“The problem with the past contracts was that the contractor never had a realistic answer to the key question: Where does the wood go?” said Pascal Berlioux, head of the Eastern Arizona Counties Association, who played a key role in writing the new RFP. “Past contractors have offered a La La Land proposal. This second RFP has created a condition so we can get an answer to those questions.”

Salt River Project Director of Water Supply Bruce Hallin said, “This has never been done before on several levels. The involvement of the partners, the review process, this is something new.” The new RFP process includes a review panel of outside experts including SRP – which supplies both water and power to a million customers in the Valley.

In the first phase of 4FRI contracts, the Forest Service picked a single contractor with minimal experience and no infrastructure. In the past seven years, a succession of contractors has thinned 15,000 acres, rather than the hoped for 300,000 acres.

The new approach will open the door to multiple contractors and stresses a team approach that can handle the biomass — wood slash and small trees. The biomass problem has stymied forest thinning efforts so far, and represents more than half the material contractors must remove. Repeated studies show that thinning millions of acres from perhaps 800 trees per acre to more like 50 trees per acre remains vital to restoring forest health, protecting watersheds and preventing wildfires from consuming forested communities.

20 year to innovation

The Forest Service hopes the lure of a 20-year contract and the guarantee of millions of tons of wood every year will attract bids from major industry partners able to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in things like small-wood sawmills, biofuel burning power plants and mills to produce high-tech, oriented strand board wood products. That didn’t work on the first set of 10-year contracts, but this time the Forest Service has changed many elements of the contracting process. Key changes include:

4FRI poster

• Breaking the roughly 800,000 acres into smaller units, so contractors can bid on a limited area. That could prove a boon to the cluster of wood processing operations in the White Mountains, including NovoPower and the Reidhead sawmills.

• Offering an eight-year initial contract, with three, four-year extensions if the contractor meets production targets.

• Leaving the door open to a subsidy in portions of the project area if that’s what it takes to get rid of the biomass – which has frustrated previous contractors.

• Establishing a review panel with representatives from the state and local government, industry, and partners like SRP, to rate proposals and review performance along the way.

• Granting a 20-year contract under new congressional authority, which is twice the previous maximum. This will give industry time to recover its sizeable initial investment.

• Completing environmental review of nearly 2 million acres, which means the Forest Service can guarantee a steady supply of wood for the full 20 years. The demonstration existing laws allow for such streamlined environmental review comes in the face of various congressional efforts to essentially gut the endangered species act and other environmental laws.

• Broad agreement on a “large tree retention strategy” that will focus on the smaller trees clogging the forest while leaving untouched most of the remaining old-growth trees bigger than 18 inches in diameter.

• Inclusion of a possible three-year ramp-up period to build processing plants before the contractor will have to start seriously clearing acreage.

The devil is in the details

Major potential problems remain – some technical, some fundamental.

In the technical category, Worsley said the RFP doesn’t necessarily guarantee the 20-year contract needed to attract major investors. The RFP offers an initial eight-year contract, with another 12 years in three installments at the “discretion” of the Forest Service.

The four-phase contract enables the Forest Service to hold contractors accountable for hitting their marks. However, Worsely said investors will want more of a guarantee if they perform.

“I absolutely agree with Brad that’s a potential problem,” said Berlioux, who was himself a bidder on the original 4FRI contract eight years ago.

Joyner said the Forest Service can amend the RFP to provide the assurances contractors need, if that becomes a sticking point when bidders respond to the RFP in the next 90 days.

“We’re open to dialogue about any section of the RFP. If a contractor is performing as per the contract, they have no reason not to expect the extensions. Our intention is for the contract to go on for 20 years. But if that language appears to be an impediment, then yes, we do have the ability to amend the RFP.”

The fundamental problem with the RFP remains disposal of the biomass, now at the center of the process.

The Arizona Corporation Commission dealt a body blow to forest restoration efforts recently when on a 3-2 vote the commissioners decided not to require Arizona utilities to buy at least 90 megawatts of electricity from biomass annually. The vote made it unlikely utilities like Arizona Public Service will invest $100 — $200 million to build a new biomass plant or convert an existing coal plant to biomass. The vote also endangered the survival of the NovoPower plant, which relies on long-term contracts with APS and SRP that expire in four years.

Currently, burning wood slash to generate electricity remains the only cost-effective market for biomass – which is the key to making money on thinning projects.

“That’s why we evaluate biomass removal as the most important part of any bid,” said Joyner. Only bids that include removal of at least 80 percent of the biomass will get a high rating. Proposals removing less than half of the biomass won’t qualify for consideration.

Joyner added, “If you want to protect the land from an uncharacteristic fire risk and protect the communities nestled in the forest and ensure the principal water supply for Payson and Phoenix – you have to figure out how to get the biomass off the land. The saw logs are the easy part.”

tbalcom / Trudy Balcom//The Independent  

Pascal Berlioux

Berlioux said he believes only bio-electricity can cope with the biomass – at least in the short term. “If we do that, we’re in the game. If we don’t, there is no plan B … It’s an absolutely no-brainer that we have to keep NovoPower producing 28 megawatts – and either APS or someone else needs to have another 60 megawatts of capacity” to support the thinning of 50,000 acres annually. “If we’re serious about preserving our forest, preserving our watersheds and saving our communities, we will find a way to do it.”

Worsley said the RFP has given him new hope NovoPower will survive, along with the existing collection of wood processing operations in the White Mountains. He said both APS and SRP have expressed cautious interest in extending the existing contracts – even if biomass power proves more expensive than making electricity from natural gas. The power plant has already played a key role in clearing perhaps 50,000 acres within 50 miles of the Snowflake facility.

“We’d love to team up with someone,” said Worsley. “But if there are bidders trying to come in here, I’m not aware of them. Today, I have no one talking about it except the existing folks.”

He noted that if an operation like an OSB wood manufacturing operation located near NovoPower it would enhance the whole operation – getting more value out of the biomass for almost the same transportation cost.

“If some operation came in and took 70 percent of the biomass so I’m taking 30 percent, then that could expand our radius to 70 miles and increase the number of acres we could support,” he said.

The genius of the new RFP process remains its ability to bring stakeholders, environmentalists, contractors, industry, loggers and state and local officials into the process. Those partners will not only bring expertise to bear, but a focus on watersheds and community survival.

Joyner said 4FRI has been anxiously watched by the federal government as the most advanced effort underway to cope with a threat to the entire American West.

“This is the model that Secretary (of Agriculture Sonny) Purdue had in mind when he set us on the course as an agency towards shared stewardship. The intention of 4FRI is to do landscape-scale work across the entire landscape to benefit the entire state,” said Joyner.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com