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Sedona's Red Rock Crossing Debate

With No Alternate Route,
Sedona Is Dangerously Vulnerable

Now that our holidays are over and all of us are on a diet, with all of our NEW Millennium resolutions fast becoming habits, at least for a couple of weeks, I want to start out with a subject that I wish every person in the "Greater Sedona Area" will give some serious thought and consideration.

Newspaper Headlines: THE FOURTH GREATEST STORM IN ARIZONA HISTORY, DECEMBER 1978

Following on the heels of significant flooding in the spring of 1978, widespread heavy rainfall from December 16th through the 20th, causes some of the costliest and widespread flooding in Arizona History. TEN people die and thousands are left homeless. Ten Arizona Counties are declared Federal disaster areas. The combined damage total from the floods in today's dollars exceeds $450 million dollars, according to the Associated Press. Not only was Sedona and Oak Creek severely affected, but it washed out a HISTORIC CROSSING AT RED ROCK CROSSING.

This was a low water crossing that was established in 1930 and continuously used by the local population for the next 48 years. This crossing was clearly marked on every map given out during all this time. Maps continue to show this as a crossing today. I have in my possession a map given out by all the Realtors and the Chamber of Commerce dated 1964 that clearly shows the crossing.

After years of indecision by Yavapai County Officials, a GRASS ROOTS Group was formed by concerned citizens of the Greater Sedona Area, and CFAR, Citizens For An Alternate Route, was born in 1993 to try and re-establish communications with our elected officials about rebuilding the crossing.

Progress was made and studies were done costing $50,000. A bridge design cost another $96,438.00, and yet another study of $25,938.00. The county, under the leadership of our Supervisor Representative Mr. Carlton Camp, budgeted $165,000 for the necessary public process called NEPA - National Environmental Protection Act.

The county supervisors have since asked the Forest Service to halt the NEPA process and to refund the unused portion on the $165,000. The United States Forest Service appeared at that time to be co-operating in the process.

THEN a new supervisor replaced Mr. Camp and everything fell apart. He did everything in his power to waylay this project. When he failed to endorse a project that was proceeding, the other two supervisors pulled the funding. Why should they endorse something in another district if the representative did not support it? You wouldn't either.

The new supervisor came up with a plan that would create a new road, through miles of virgin, pristine National Forest land, that he knew didn't have chance to be accepted by area residents and would cost several million dollars more than restoring the original crossing. Supporters of the alternate route and/or restoration of the crossing are many.

The last three City Councils of Sedona are on record with support for this project. A committee set up by me when I was the mayor, with current Vice Mayor Judith Keane as chairperson, listed as one of its top priorities to restore the crossing as an alternate route. The Sedona Fire District is supportive. The fund raising arm of the local medical service is supportive.

Keep Sedona Beautiful did a survey of their membership and 58% of their members wanted the alternate route restored. The Board of Directors sat on these results and down-played them as it did not meet with their views.

The Sedona Red Rock News conducted surveys, and a poll of January 1999 showed that 13% of the respondents' top concern was restoration of Red Rock Crossing, preventing time share construction and Y2K concerns. Only one percent of the respondents were against rebuilding the crossing.

The 65 members of the Midday Rotary Club were polled at a meeting, and all but one of them are for the restoration. By the way, the one member who is against restoring the Crossing is a candidate for a Sedona City Council seat in the March 2000 election.

Then another SRRN poll in March 1999 regarding the upgrading of Highway 179 from south of the VOC to the "Y" at Sedona. . . Not only did the majority want 179 improved, but they also said the county and ADOT need to put in an alternate route across Red Rock Crossing as they improve 179 - or just before. And I quote, "The outcry for the crossing was very strong, both from people favoring and those opposing improvements on Highway 179."

What can we expect when ADOT starts work on Highway 179? A recent meeting of concerned citizens, held in the Village of Oak Creek, included county officials and Mr. Don Dorman, ADOT representative of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff.

Dorman explained the timetable for construction on Hwy 179: Work is to begin in the year 2002, and only after the completion of the work on Highway 89A from Cottonwood to Sedona; Hwy 179 construction will continue through 2005. When asked what kind of traffic delays could occur . . . "From eight o'clock am until eight o'clock pm we can expect traffic delays up to 30 minutes in both directions. . .," Dorman said. "From 8 o'clock pm until 6 o'clock am, traffic will be piloted one way at a time. It could be longer with exceptions of accidents and other problems."

GET READY FOLKS.

DO WE NEED AN ALTERNATE ROUTE FROM the VILLAGE OF OAK CREEK TO WEST SEDONA?!

Traffic is estimated on Highway 179 to be between 15,000 and 33,000 cars a day, with the higher number progressive as you come from VOC to Sedona, according to a Lima and Associates report (they did a Verde Valley Traffic study and very conveniently left out the alternate route at the direction of Yavapai County officials).

By the way - Yavapai County sent a bill for Sedona's share of the study to the City of Sedona. And they paid it! Why??? You should ask your City Councilperson.

Some of the projected expenditures on roads in the Verde Valley:

Construct a LOW WATER CROSSING for an emergency access route at Tagalong Trail and Wet Beaver in the Lake Montezuma area. Where is the Sierra Club on this one?

BEAVER HEAD FLAT ROAD, the first design contract is already let. This road goes between Hwy 179 and McGuireville Road. There are no residents on this road; no private land. It has to cross six washes and the county has approximately $7 million dollars budgeted to improve a road that they say has traffic projected at maybe 300 cars (plus or minus) a day (that's $23,333.33 a car). Rumor has it that our Representative has some kind of recreation facility planned off this road.

Let me share with you the goal of CFAR from day one (incorporated in 1993): "To promote and show support for an alternate route from the Village of Oak Creek to West Sedona and to support improvement of existing routes into and around Sedona."

Folks how much simpler can we say it??? Let us hear from you!!!!

Bridging Red Rock Crossing
Would Be Wrong, Act of Greed

When asked recently if I would provide an opposing view on the appeal of the Red Rock Crossing lawsuit, my reaction was immediate: "Enough already!"

What's left to say? Tens of thousands of words have been written; thousands of civil servant hours and legal volunteer hours have been consumed. And hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer and private funds have been expended during the 12 years of the War of the Alternate Route.

In the midst of this brouhaha, the subject, Red Rock Crossing, remains unperturbed, unchanged and uncrossed by anything other than foot, bicycle and equestrian traffic. While CFAR sees that as an oversight, many of us here and elsewhere in the world think it's the way it should be. Sacrificing much-loved Sedona scenery and atmosphere, bit by bit, to satisfy greed, glut or convenience is a dumb idea.

A bridge, some say, would shave a few minutes off their journey between Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek – a matter of convenience. But, "What's a little time and inconvenience compared with the millions of years it took to make Red Rock Crossing?" asked one thoughtful young resident.

A bridge for emergency use between the Village of Oak Creek and Sedona Medical Center is another argument. Truth to tell, the entire route would have to be widened, straightened and paved – the cost to Yavapai County taxpayers $28 million plus – before emergency vehicles could safely and effectively use it.

In the meantime, Beaverhead Flat Road is schedule for paving later this year. It will provide an all-weather road allowing quick and reliable passage between the VOC and Cottonwood and to Verde Valley Medical Center, the region's only full-service hospital.

In addition, full-time paramedics are now stationed in the new state-of-the-arts fire station in the VOC, construction on SR89A between Sedona and Cottonwood has begun on the Cottonwood segment and is proceeding at a fast pace.

Finally, ADOT has scheduled SR179 to be four-laned, beginning in 2003, with completion planned for 2005. Still other bridge promoters wait in the wings to make their grand entrance. The first, second and last acts would be a drama of developing the entire rural area between highways 179 and 89A, the largest expanse of undeveloped land in the Sedona area, except for the National Forest.

True, at the price of land in the Sedona area, builders could make big bucks in short-term profits. But here's a good question: At what cost to the rest of the community?

How many No's does it take?

Thousands of citizens in this country and the rest of the world have sent their No's, in e-mail, regular mail and postcards. Hundreds more have telephoned.

With his customary straightforward approach, Barry Goldwater bellowed a decided "No" – "Why anyone, with only half a mind or no mind at all, could ever come up with building a highway so that a bridge could be built over one of the most beautiful spots in Arizona is absolutely beyond my ability to comprehend."

Not to omit that colorful present mayor of Prescott, Sam Steiger, who was clear enough on his opinion: "You can't put a bridge at Red Rock Crossing. That's where Bambi pees."

A generous armload of petitions circulated by the Sierra Club spoke in eloquent protest against a Red Rock Crossing bridge with 10,541 signatures submitted to the U.S. Forest Service.

For several years in a row, Taxpayers for Common Sense in Washington, D.C., has named a bridge at Red Rock Crossing one of the 22 most wasteful road projects proposed in the country. Finally in 1999, the latest Verde Valley Regional Transportation Study Update, prepared by Lima & Associates for Yavapai County, examined and assessed the impact of a Red Rock Crossing route.

Yavapai County's "No, we aren't obliged to replace a washed-out low-water crossing" has been upheld by the courts.

The Superior Court judge in Maricopa County said "No." Three Appellate Court judges unanimously said "No." Appealing this case to the Arizona Supreme Court, who may say "No” to even hearing it, seems equivalent to beating a dead horse.

Actually, there's nothing fun or appealing about any part of this controversy. The real appeal is right where it's always been – in interesting citizens. None of them would tell you that they moved here to promote an alternate route or to spend precious time saving what they believed were obvious and irreplaceable treasures.

So much waste! Isn't it time, at last, to take "No" for an answer?

Bennie Blake is an English teacher, writer and editor. She has taught English, writing and history courses at Yavapai College and independent workshops throughout the Verde Valley. She is in her twelfth year of vigilance over Red Rock Crossing.

Photos of bridges taken from Design Concept Report prepared for Yavapai County, Public Works/County Engineer

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