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Cave Creek Council exploring possibilities to preserve 4,000 acres of open land


Tara Alatorre

CAVE CREEK – The Cave Creek Town Council unanimously agreed to execute an intergovernmental agreement with the Arizona State Land Department and passed a moratorium restricting new water service connections for the Desert Hills water system during its meeting on Monday, Oct. 3.

The IGA or intergovernmental agreement essentially allows the town to hire a consultant firm and explore the possibilities of preserving 4,000 acres of land near Cave Creek by utilizing the federal government’s Clean Water Act’s compensatory mitigation program.

Essentially, developers who want to purchase state land that requires environmental mitigation would be able to acquire the land, and then pay for preservation and mitigation efforts on a portion of land set aside in Cave Creek. The 4,000 acres of land the town and state are looking to preserve is the same annexed 4,000 acre parcel of land the town unsuccessfully attempted to purchase from the state in 2009 for its conservation efforts.

“Seldom do I see the attorney general office reaching out to help us, and this is an example of where they called me,” said the town’s attorney. “The logical next step is to work with SLD [state land department] to create 4,000 acres of state land to be preserved at little to no cost to the town to be used for recreational purposes.”

Now that the IGA has passed, the town will now need to hire a consultant, which is not to exceed costs of $20,000, with the attorney general office also contributing up to $20,000, to assess the property within the town and make recommendations concerning how conservation mitigation can ensue under the Clean Water Act.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency compensatory mitigation means the “restoration, establishment, enhancement, and/or in certain circumstances preservation of wetlands, streams and other aquatic resources for the purposes of offsetting unavoidable adverse impacts which remain after all appropriate and practicable avoidance and minimization has been achieved.”

This is just the first step; once the consultants are hired, a biological survey will assess how the land is valued and how much it would cost to mitigate conservation by meeting the requirements by federal law and the army of engineer corps, said Vice Mayor Steve LaMar at the meeting.

“This is the pig and the poke test, this is where we open the poke up and we pull the pig out, and we see how much he weighs and we decide if it’s a good thing to buy on both ends of this deal,” LaMar said.

Once the SLD, developers and Cave Creek look at the consultant’s findings, then the town of Cave Creek will have the authority to establish and regulate the use of land set aside, according to the IGA.

“Until the report comes back we can’t assess any details or answer any questions right now,” LaMar said. “Nobody is hiding anything; this is just the first step.”

The Cave Creek Town Council then took more steps in ensuring the town’s water resources by unanimously passing a moratorium restricting new water service connections outside of Cave Creek, but allowed existing customers in Desert Hills to stay connected to Cave Creek’s water services.

The town manager brought this item to council after being concerned that Cave Creek’s Central Arizona Project allocations may not support the fast growth rate of the Desert Hills area, said Mayor Francia when explaining his support for the moratorium.

Also, with recent demands for running water from the residents on the west-side of Cave Creek, it was a common sense approach until the town has a better understanding of its future water supply from CAP, he said.

 “So that’s how we got in this mess is by servicing those customers and by doing the right thing,” said Councilman Ernie Bunch.  “While I hate having to do this to anyone out there, it’s the right thing for us to do in the town of Cave Creek.”