One Cottonwood City councilwoman criticized a local PGA/Marriott Hotel deal that would build a 1,000-room hotel on a controversial golf course project that would include surrounding subdivisions of single-family housing; despite the fact that several years ago 100,000 people signed a petition to vote on whether they wanted this project built over a sensitive underground aquifer.
A previous city council went behind closed doors with developers and worked out a 27-year non-annexation agreement, ignoring hundreds of voices in opposition.
"I haven't changed my mind in standing strong with the issue that we shouldn't be developing out there, we should be protecting our aquifer," she admonished.
Criticism also was directed at plans to apply a 12-inch thick "clay liner" over the aquifer's recharge karst, with a closed loop irrigation system for the golf course. The local water company endorses this giant "eco-condum" despite a lack of previous experience with such an experiment on golf courses. A developer's representative claims the clay liners are commonly used to line the bottom of landfills, therefore allegedly protecting a region's groundwater from contamination.
The developers also would pass over the use of the city's well-funded and equipped fire department to protect its 1,000-room hotel and surrounding homes from fire damage. Instead, the developers would rely on a volunteer fire department to perform the task.
Furthermore, the developer wants a "force majeur" clause added to its non-annexation agreement with the city in addition to another force majeur clause in its water use agreement with the water company.
Also, a switcheroo regarding which source of water the developer would use. Instead of relying on water rights to another, more scarce water source from a small underground aquifer, they want to purchase water rights from the same aquifer used by more than a million residents of Cottonwood City. It should be noted here that the smaller aquifer tends to go dry during frequent drought periods, and is already overtaxed by wells that supply at least one exurb that lies to the north of Cottonwood City.
The developer's rep claims that if the developer switches to a single well in the larger aquifer, it would be subject to water restrictions during the many drought periods that occur in this region. If PGA/Marriott sticks to the original plan to draw water from the smaller aquifer through several wells it already owns, there would be no drought-period water restrictions. The City Council, ironically, is relying on this developer's representative to explain the science of this project, as he has represented many of the developers who routinely destroy native forests and pave over sensitive areas of this underground limestone aquifer.
One citizen critic pointed out that this development already lies within a heavily developed area that includes residents who are vehemently fighting the construction of toll roads.
It's interesting that the "toll party" that has gotten involved in statewide politics were not standing at the podium during the public comment segment of this agenda item that was presented to the council today.
The entire matter might be moot, as developers are predicted to override any council decision that does not favor them during the next session of the legislature.
This is a half-billion dollar project for PGA/Marriott, and they obviously would not be expected to adhere to the will of 100,000 petition signers who opposed this project when it first was proposed.
An environmental watchdog organization, Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas, has steadfastly opposed this golf course/hotel/subdivision project.
The city council decision is pending at the time of this post - although I predict at least a 7-4 vote in favor of the developers.
POSTSCRIPT: A few minutes after this was posted on Thursday, individual council members made speeches about why they were disappointed that the PGA developers were bringing this deal back to council, but that they were voting for it anyway because it was good for the economic vitality of the city.
The mayor consulted the city attorney, the CEO of the water supply company, and the developer's engiineer. He asked them if the project would affect the city's water supply. They of course assured him it was an environmentally safe project. Therefore the mayor voted in favor of the new contract.
The Council's three female members voted against the proposal. In the end, the council voted 8-3 to give the PGA developers more time to build the golf course and the hotel. The environment takes a back seat to developers in Cottonwood City; in the final tally, it's the citizens who will suffer when their water source gets too polluted for human consumption.