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In the aftermath of August 1 storm, town passes emergency resolution

PINETOP-LAKESIDE — A whopper of a storm hit Pinetop-Lakeside Thurday Aug. 1, causing flooding and widespread damage, prompting the town to pass an emergency resolution.

The storm started around 5:30 p.m. and continued for approximately 45 minutes. During that time a total of 4.8 inches of rain fell which caused extensive damage to private property and to many public facilities, streets and roads within the Town of Pinetop-Lakeside.

The storm occurred while the regular monthly meeting of the town council was underway. Some of the town council members were late to the meeting due to the storm. A flash flood warning came across phones and emails at 6:01 p.m. and 6:02 p.m., respectively. When the alert went off everyone at the meeting looked at their phones and then at each other. Little did they know what was going on outside at the time.

Culverts, which were not designed for this type of downpour, overflowed, blocking driveways and spreading debris. Hail the size of marbles covered the ground, turning it white. Woodland Road and south of Woodland Lake Road were totally flooded.

Crews worked throughout Thursday night scraping ice off the road with backhoes and unblocking driveways to get people back in their homes.

According to Dustin Whipple, head of the road crew, the hardest hit areas were Woodland Park, Woodland Village Mobile Home Park, The Woods at Pinetop, Woodland Hills, Summer Haven and Pinetop Hills. These were, however, not the only areas affected.

Local resident Dana Rodd Heck, who lives at The Woods, sent photos and a video to the Independent.

“We went out to eat about an hour after the storm,” she said.

What they encountered on the drive on Pine View Lane was a muddy river spilling debris across the road and city crews and police armed with a snowplow.

“They were watching the hillside which apparently was about to slide down,” she said. Many other residents posted videos and photos on Facebook of the ice and blocked culverts.

Town Manager Keith Johnson said residents he spoke with who have lived here all of their lives said they have never seen anything like this. Some reported that a storm in 2006 was also a bad one.

Patterson expressed concern with the overflowing of culverts with more rain in the forecast. He said 17 public works employees worked throughout the weekend and beyond, as well as enlisting the assistance of sub-contractors. He said some of the drains were completely full of debris and blocked by the ice.

Storm brings new,

costly headaches

For town officials, the storm was challenging and costly. An emergency meeting of the mayor and town council was held on Friday, August 2, at 3 p.m. for the purpose of passing a resolution declaring the threat of an emergency to town residents.

Not only must the town pay for the cost of the crews that worked through the night on Thursday and into the weekend to clear roads and culverts, but any damage caused to town infrastructure.

The resolution passed by the council allows the agencies to implement the town’s emergency plan which will remain in effect until further notice (the emergency plan can be found on the town’s website at www.pinetoplakesideaz.gov).

Pinetop-Lakeside Police Chief Dan Barnes mentioned that emergency funds were available through the Arizona Department of Environmental Management. Public Works Director Matt Patterson said these funds would help with overtime and that monies for the culverts and other work would have to be directed from some other fund because it is not available in his department budget.

Johnson said the drainage issue had been a longstanding one and Patterson said it is one of the areas they have on their to-do list but have not gotten to yet.

Council inquired as to the responsibility of the replacement or repair of culverts and Patterson advised that a policy was started at some point where the town agreed to bear the expense of putting in the culverts if a citizen purchased it.

“There is going to be a lot of culvert repair,” said Patterson.

Patterson also noted that Mountain Meadows Recreation Complex received quite a bit of damage.

“The well-house was completely flooded,” said Patterson, “and we are short on funds to pay for what we have to do. No way could we have ever prepared for this. The system was never designed to handle this type of water flow.”

After the meeting, Councilor Jim Snitzer mentioned that Rainbow Lake was up four to six inches and Walnut Creek almost overflowed.

Patterson said the public works crew worked tirelessly from the night of the storm through Saturday night and were able to get the water levels down. In a text message to the Independent, he said he told the crew to get some rest and they would “hit it full force on Monday.”

“It will take about three weeks for the clean up; that is, we are shooting for three weeks.”

Residents who have property damage from the storm should check with their insurance carrier to determine their coverage.


Trudy Balcom/The Independent  

Shadows lengthen at the end of a late summer day at Fool Hollow Lake. Days are already getting shorter and kids are going back to school, sure signs that summer’s end is near.


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Counties, towns may get a cut of online sales tax

NAVAJO & APACHE COUNTIES — A change in the way the state treats online sales could offer a life-jacket for hard-pressed towns and counties.

Or maybe not.

That’s the take on a new state law from Arizona County Supervisors Association, which lobbies for counties statewide.

The lobbying group has worked for several years to find a way to keep the huge shift of sales from stores to online outlets from crashing county budgets.

Counties count on the sales tax for key services, including most of its roadbuilding and maintenance.

However, people don’t pay sales tax when they buy online from businesses based outside the state. By contrast, they pay nearly 10 percent when they buy from brick-and-mortar stores.

The sales tax accounts for nearly half of town revenues, but a much smaller share of county revenues.

The US Supreme Court in 2018 in South Dakota v. Wayfair ruled that the state can collect sales tax from out-of-state business selling their goods online.

The legislature this year took the first step toward taxing online sales, but with enough conditions and exemptions that experts aren’t sure what impact the change will have.

“Over the last 20 years, the financial condition of the counties has degraded as more and more commerce has moved to the internet. That has impacted main street businesses, as well as the county bottom line,” said County Supervisors Association Executive Director Craig Sullivan.

That’s because customers find themselves paying an extra 10 percent just to cover the sales tax when they go into a local retail store, which not only provides jobs for locals but supports police, fire and other services for everyone.

“That has put increased pressure on the property tax as the sales tax has eroded,” observed Sullivan at a recent Apache County Supervisors meeting.

Sullivan said the change could also help local retailers compete. “We have advocated for fairness and equity for Main Street – but it also shores up the financial system for counties and towns.”

Online sales have risen from about 5 percent of total sales to 12 percent of total sales in the past 20 years. In February, online retail sales edged out brick-and-mortar retail sales for the first time in history. Online sales amounted to $60 billion in February.

Auto and auto parts account for 20 percent of all sales. Restaurants, food and beverage and bars accounts for another 12 percent – about the same as online and local retail.

The county lobbying group pushed hard to collect online sales tax, despite the legislature’s reluctance to support any kind of tax increase.

The new system takes effect on Oct. 1 and will require all out-of-state online retailers to file and pay transaction privilege tax (sales taxes) to the state.

However, the retailer must sell more than $200,000 to Arizona residents in 2019, or $150,000 in 2020 or $100,000 going forward from there.

That law also covers “marketplace facilitators” that operate the platforms people use to buy from other businesses – which presumably means the big dogs like Amazon. The platforms would have to collect the tax and send it along to the state for sellers who meet the financial thresholds.

But no one’s sure how this complicated bit of business will work out – or how the state can effectively enforce the new rules over distant businesses with which it has little leverage or communications. The bill doesn’t specify how the money will get divided once the state collects it.

“We really don’t know what it will mean. I’m reluctant to say ‘X’ dollars will be available” to counties or towns. “but it does shore up the leakage – so that was a good result.”

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


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Head-on crash kills one

HEBER-OVERGAARD — One person is dead and two others are in the hospital after a two-vehicle, head-on fatality collision on Highway 277 near milepost marker 317 on Sunday, Aug. 4.

Heber-Overgaard Fire Chief Dee McCluskey said they got the call a little before 8 p.m. that there was a head-on fatality collision on Highway 277 involving a Chevrolet pickup truck and a Buick sedan passenger car.

“It was a pretty devastating scene when we got there,” McCluskey said.

Arizona Department of Public Safety Media Relations Specialist Bart Graves said the eastbound Buick driven by Jeremy L. Tsosie, 29, of Shiprock N.M., crossed the center line colliding head-on with the truck. Tsosie was killed in the crash.

“The Buick spun around and came to rest in the center of the road facing west. The engine was torn from the vehicle and started a grass fire on the south side of the road. The pickup truck rolled down an embankment and came to rest on it’s side. The driver of the Buick sedan was deceased on scene. Both occupants of the pickup suffered severe injuries and were flown to Scottsdale Osborn and Flagstaff Medical Center,” Graves said in an email.

McCluskey said the Buick with Tsosie’s body inside, caught fire. McCluskey said Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers had arrived shortly before Heber-Overgaard fire personnel and had applied a “life saving” tourniquet to one of the occupants of the truck. Heber-Overgaard personnel also performed triage and other emergency medical treatment to the two survivors before they were transported by air to hospitals for further treatment as well as putting out the car fire and the brush fire while helicopters arrived.


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New managers settle in

APACHE COUNTY — The towns of Springerville and Eagar have some new faces at their town halls with the hiring of their newest town managers, Joe Jarvis and Terry Hinton. St. Johns also had a new hire, with Christine Chiesl taking the helm for community development efforts for the city.

Springerville

Photo by Amber Shepard  

Joe Jarvis is the Town Manager of Springerville.

Joseph Jarvis, 37, was hired in April and is new to position of town manager and to the town of Springerville, but he is well-versed in public service, having spent a decade in the field.

“Public service is an honorable career field, in my opinion,” Mr. Jarvis said. He cited his family’s heritage in public service and the rewarding nature of service work as what drives him. His family also has deep roots in Arizona, going back six generations. His great-grandfather was born in Eagar, and was a high school coach there. Mr. Jarvis lived in Arizona much of his life, graduating from Mountain View High School in Mesa, and earning his master’s degree in Public Administration from Arizona State University. He has experience working for larger governments, such as Broward County, Florida, as well as many small towns, such as Florence, where he was their finance director for his previous position.

Through his career and the various moves they have made across the country, he found that he and his wife really enjoyed working and living in small towns. They had a love for the mountains of Arizona and wanted to return. “I am grateful to the town council for hiring me, and I am excited to work with them,” Mr. Jarvis said. Springerville and the surrounding areas offer the climate and winter activities they all enjoy, along with the small-town lifestyle they wanted for their family. Mr. Jarvis says they plan to stay here for the long term. “I anticipate that they will all be Round Valley Elks in the future,” Mr. Jarvis says of his four young children.

Eagar

Photo by Amber Shepard  

Terry Hinton is the new Town Manager for Eagar.

Terry Hinton, 68, was also hired in April. He is also an Arizona native who was born and raised in Graham County. After a lifetime of work, he retired, but quickly found that retirement didn’t suit him. He enjoys staying active and participating in youth coaching, and he looks forward to helping his son with boy’s basketball.

He was drawn to Eagar by his son and his grandchildren who lived there, and because of his love of small communities and the people who live in them. Hinton brings with him a wealth of experience. Not only does he have experience with private industry as a small business owner, he has also been city manager for the cities of Kearny and Thatcher. When asked what his biggest challenge has been in adapting to his new life in Eagar, he laughed and said, “Learning all the streets and learning my way around.” He looks forward to being able to hunt and fish during his time off, and maybe finally get that elk tag that has eluded him in previous draws.

St. Johns

Christine Chiesl is not a new face to many of the residents of the White Mountains, but she is new to the city of St. Johns as Community Development Director. Chiesl has worked and lived in the White Mountains for decades and has been residing in Vernon for the last 16 years. She has extensive experience with economic and community development, having previously worked for the White Mountain Apache Tribe and the city of Springerville. She also has experience with grant writing and has done so for the Economic Development of Authority of Apache County (EDAC), and she has worked with Barry Williams in writing grants for Apache County schools. She came to St. Johns after seeing that there was need for grants and economic development, and she was hired in July.

“You have a lot of really good people here,” Chiesl said. She is excited for the possibilities for St. John’s growth and appreciates the support the town has shown for the prospect of new opportunities.

Amber Shepard is an local journalist covering municipal governments and other Apache County topics.


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Forest Service: Bagnal Fire was, and remains, under control

SHOW LOW – The Bagnal Fire is still slowly burning just a mile southwest of Show Low. But early last week, heavy smoke and the fire’s unsettlingly cozy proximity to the city made many residents uncomfortable at best and fearful at worst.

Trudy Balcom/The Independent  

Smoke from the Bagnal Fire located on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests near Show Low tarnished the skyline Saturday night. Saturday's rain didn't put it out. The fire grew on Saturday to nealy 1,000 acres due to Forest Service burn-out operations.

Discovered on Friday, July 26 in the Lakeside Ranger District, the Bagnal Fire brought residents of Show Low, Linden and surrounding communities a dreadful reminder of the historic Rodeo-Chedeski Fire of 2002 which burned over 468,000 acres in the settlements of Clay Springs, Linden and Pinedale and barely missed Show Low.

The Independent met with Lakeside Ranger District Fire Management Officer (FRO) Christoper Ruff on Friday, Aug. 2 to learn more about how the US Forest Service manages wildfire and prescribed fires following a barrage of resident and visitor phone calls about the lightning-caused Bagnal Fire.

“Every wildfire is managed,” assures Ruff. “It is either managed for resource benefit which means it’s low intensity and we can take the opportunity to reduce fuels, or it’s managed for suppression like the Museum Fire in Flagstaff that posed an imminent threat to the public, firefighters and structures.” Ruff also said there can be other wildfire management protocols that may offer a combination of benefits and strategies; each wildfire is analyzed individually.

Unfortunately, this particular wildfire was misunderstood from the start, said Forest Service personnel. However, the good news is that it provided an opportunity for the public to learn about Forest Service process, policy and protocol when it comes to wildfires. And, it may allow the Forest Service to provide more clarity about the manner in which a wildfire is being managed.

The Bagnal Fire was considered “fortuitous” by the Forest Service because fire ignited “in an area of the forest that we were already going to treat” in a future prescribed burn block.

Although seven press releases were issued between July 27-Aug. 5, it was never really clear to the public or the Independent that the wildfire was being managed for resource benefit which was to reduce fuels.

“We can do better in our future communications,” promises Ruff. “In Forest Service language and in the prescribed fire arena, we use the term ‘burn’ and people associate that with ‘prescribed fire’ and not ‘wildfire’. In retrospect I can understand how that can be misconstrued and we want to relate that better in press releases.”

The press releases may have given mixed messages because the fire was described as having “slow and steady growth” without explaining to the community that the wildfire’s growth was managed within a “preplanned perimeter.” Also, references to precipitation “which has slowed the growth of the fire” added to the confusion because that left the feeling that, without rain, the wildfire could have become catastrophic.

“We determined early on that the Bagnal Fire wasn’t a threat so we were able to manage it for resource benefit,” says Ruff. “The first priority, again, is public safety and firefighters safety. If we couldn’t handle that, then we would have called in as many resources as needed to overtly suppress the fire in as quick a time frame as possible.”

“I was one hundred percent sure that we could maintain the fire within the perimeter of the boundary we had created,” assures Ruff. “Again, we had and still have everything we need to hold this fire within the boundary which helped our decision to propagate the fire here. We have pre-determined areas for prescribed burns for several reasons,” explains Ruff. “This area was high priority for treatment because it’s adjacent to Show Low. It’s basically a Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) area.”

Reducing fuels protects the community

“We carefully weigh the benefits of treating any area to protect the towns, cities, private property and structures in the area,” says Ruff. “The location of this wildfire allowed us to be proactive instead of reactive.”

tbalcom / Trudy Balcom/The Independent 

Firefighting vehicles off Joe Tank Road.

“We can purposely reduce those fuels by burning them. The Bagnal Fire is a low intensity fire that gave us the opportunity to allow to burn on it’s own to burn up some of those fuels, thereby reducing the quantity of fuels on the ground which ultimately reduces the threat of any catastrophic wildfire going through the area for five to 10 years,” says Ruff. “It was a low intensity fire which we allowed to burn on it’s own, and burn up some of that stuff. And thereby, by reducing the quantity of fuels it drastically reduces the threat of any catastrophic fire.

“We have worked very hard to minimize the risk of another catastrophic wildfire like Rodeo-Chediski by burning fuels in the forest,” he adds. “About five years ago, we initiated prescribed fires in the Pinedale area to help reduce those fuels. At first, residents were upset and very concerned but they have come to understand how this reduce the threat of fire to the town and also helps with overall forest health. To date, we have burned approximately 13,000 acres there.”

Wildfire vs.

prescribed fire

To better understand why the Forest Service felt confident, a lesson in their terminology and policy is helpful.

“There are only two types of fire in US Forest Service policy,” says Ruff. “There are wildfires and prescribed fires; what comes after that is how we manage them.”

A wildfire, he says, can encompass anything from a small, lighting-caused fire like the Bagnal Fire to something like the Museum Fire in Flagstaff. A prescribed fire, he says, is generally part of a five-year plan for prescribed burns that is “extremely planned out” and “must involve National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) review and approval.”

tbalcom / Trudy Balcom/The Independent 

The fire burned spotty patches along the south side of Joe Tank Road.

“Then, even with a prescribed fire, we take into consideration fuel conditions, weather patterns and resources,” Ruff said. “Wind is always factored in because we know that 95 percent of the time, fire goes with the predominate wind direction which is southwest to northeast.”

“The Bagnal Fire was always a wildfire and never changed to anything else,” says Ruff. “Within our policy, we had the ability to take that fire and manage it in a planned way to move it across the landscape. We can almost emulate the effects of a prescribed fire even though it’s, by definition, a wildfire.”

“Prescribed fire is a valuable land management tool used to reduce the risk and severity of wildfire and meet other resource management objectives such as maintaining habitat for endangered species,” informs Mark Thibideau, acting fire information officer. “As compared to wildfires, prescribed fires are shorter in duration and are conducted under weather conditions to minimize the impacts of smoke on the public.”

The Independent asked Ruff why the Forest Service would use a wildfire as a vehicle for emulating a prescribed fire. The answer lies in the biology and ecology of a ponderosa pine forest.

“We sometimes reintroduce fire to an utterly fire dependent eco-system that we live in,” says Ruff. “Whether it is a prescribed burn or a wildfire that is managed by the Forest Service, Ponderosa Pine forests will die without fire.”

“In this case, we had a natural start with lightning and we defined the boundary,” says Ruff.

The key point, according to the Forest Service, is that there are only two types of fire – wildfire and prescribed burns. “What comes after that is managing that particular fire for the benefit of the resources,” states Ruff. “The resources are forest health and fuel reduction.”

Smoke

“We went into this fully aware that there would be smoke in Show Low and surrounding areas,” says Ruff. “Please know that we are completely aware of the impacts of smoke and we are in the middle of it so we pay attention to smoke … We have to be cognizant of people living nearby that have health issues. For that reason, we work closely with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality continuously. In some cases we will limit the size of the fire based on the tolerance and proximity of the community.”

“We can’t eliminate the smoke and treat the land so we weigh the benefits versus the negative impacts of the smoke; it’s not perfect,” he concedes. “But, treating the forest and the areas where there are heavy fuel loads on the ground is the only way to prevent a huge million-acre fire.”

“Bottom line — if you want to reduce wildfire and maintain the health of the ponderosa forest, it requires fire. There is science that supports that over and over,” says Ruff. “We will always employ every piece of data from multiple sources to determine if the benefits to the public, the structures, private land and the forest outweigh smoke impacts.”

Worst case scenario

“Part of my job is to think worst case scenario,” explains Ruff. “If the weather and wind totally changes, for instance, I can call up dispatch and get whatever resources we need very quickly. We have a contingent of people that we can pull at short notice.”

“We have pre-season meetings with our partners regularly. During the high fire season we talk to each other daily.”

“I cannot stress this enough; public safety and firefighter safety is always our number one priority,” he adds.