Cottonwood moves ahead with forest annexation

COTTONWOOD -- The City Council is moving forward to complete the annexation of 8.2 square miles of forest land north of the Cottonwood City limits. Sept. 17 is the one-year deadline in which Cottonwood has to complete the addition.

Annexation of 10 square miles of State Trust Land east of the forest tract is on a different and much-longer schedule with more requirements.

The City Council agreed to the move during the Tuesday night council meeting. The item had been tagged onto the end of the agenda as an addendum late Monday.

The decision for a vote was hinted at last Friday when Councilman Tim Elinski suggested during a joint meeting with Clarkdale over the annexation that Cottonwood should take a vote on the intergovernmental agreement (IGA) proposed by Clarkdale.

Clarkdale wanted Cottonwood to agree to a position that neither government would annex the forest land that separates the two governments now, but Cottonwood would have the right of first refusal if it changed its mind in the future.

The IGA would renew every year after the new council is seated so that one council could not tie the hands of a future council. Still there was legal indecision, and attorney Steven Horton suggested a resolution instead of the intergovernmental agreement.

The back-and-forth volley of statements and responses consumed much of the three-hour meeting Friday.

This week, Elinski said his idea was to end the arguments, take a vote and then move forward.

Elinski said he is not against a forest land annexation, but "I don't see that land as threatened and thought the IGA would still allow the preservation of rights on the land while opening a dialogue toward better communication. I thought that entering into an IGA would show the spirit of cooperation. It was a good opportunity."

Terrence Pratt also voted against the annexation. He had questions earlier about adding the forest land to the city.

Linda Norman wavered, saying she was "on the fence" and could have been a third vote against the annexation, but she voted with the majority in the end.

Annexation of the forest land and the intergovernmental agreement were the two options for the council, as part of the council memo.

Cottonwood residents Bob Rothrock and Dr. Bob Richards spoke to oppose the action.

Duane Kirby said he and Darold Smith "led the charge" against the IGA and for the annexation of the public land.

Kirby said, "I've never made it a secret: I don't trust the Forest Service and I don't trust Clarkdale."

As part of "justification/benefits/issue," the council memorandum cites, "The Town of Clarkdale has annexed forest land previously that was identified by the City of Cottonwood for annexation."

That refers to the forest land proposed in the Ruskin-Yavapai Ranch Land Exchange. The 2.6 acres of forest land north of Cottonwood was annexed by Clarkdale to protect it from development. Cottonwood had hoped that land could become foothills home sites.

Other justifications included the "need to protect the northern border of the city against uncontrolled development if the forest land is traded " and that the "City is better prepared to protect forest lands from abuse and misuse."

Smith repeated his question, "Why do we need the IGA? That was never clear to me since Clarkdale could never annex it anyway."

Smith formed the motion to proceed with the annexation, adding that Cottonwood should support a resolution that the land is to remain open space. "That's what everyone wants," he said.

Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig said he was "disappointed" after the vote, but "not surprised. They have chosen to annex, despite all the evidence and logic. It appears that they have acted contrary to their own best interests, or there is some other unstated motivation."

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